Turkish PM meets protest leaders

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ANKARA: Turkish protest leaders held emergency talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan overnight after demonstrators rejected his “last warning” to evacuate an Istanbul park at the center of mass anti-government demos.

With tensions mounting, Taksim Solidarity representatives travelled to the capital Ankara for late-night talks with Erdogan, their first since the unrest began. Local television showed around a dozen members entering the pre-mier’s residence.

Earlier, Erdogan had taken a combative stance against the protesters at Gezi Park who have put up the biggest challenge yet to the decade-long rule of his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“I’m making my last warning: mothers, fathers please withdraw your kids from there,” he said in a live television broadcast. “Gezi Park does not belong to occupying forces. It belongs to everybody.”

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Even as the talks got underway, police fired tear gas at around 200 protesters gathered in Ankara city center, not far from Erdogan’s offices, witnesses said.

They used water cannon to break up the gathering and arrested five demonstrators.

After the talks, which lasted several hours, AKP spokesman Huseyin Celik insisted the government would do nothing to the park until a referendum they had promised on its future had taken place.

“We want to know what the population of Istanbul thinks, its decision is very important for us,” he added.

The authorities were also waiting for the courts to rule on a move by objectors to block their development plan, Celik added.

In Istanbul, thousands of protesters spent another night under the stars in the park, having earlier rebuffed Erdogan’s call to leave in return for a referendum on the park’s planned redevelopment.

The fight to save the park’s 600 trees prompted a brutal police crackdown two weeks ago, provoking nationwide protests against Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted government, which critics see as increasingly authoritarian.

Four people have died in the nationwide unrest so far and some 5,000 demonstrators, most of whom are young and middle-class, have been injured.

The proposed vote on government plans to build a replica of Ottoman-era military barracks in Gezi Park, suggested by Erdogan on Wednesday, was his first concession to the protesters.

The proposal came out of talks with some protest leaders, a loose coalition representing a variety of interest groups. Many protesters however objected that Taksim Solidarity had been excluded, hardening campers’ resolve to stay in the park.

“We did not suffer through the attacks . . . so that a referendum could take place,” the Taksim Solidarity group said.

In some of the biggest clashes in the conflict yet, riot police on Tuesday stormed Taksim Square, which borders Gezi Park and has been the focal point of the protest movement.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon at tens of thousands of demonstrators, some of whom hurled back fireworks and Molotov cocktails.

AFP

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