ANKARA, 13 JUNE: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan today issued a “last warning” for thousands of protesters to evacuate an Istanbul park at the centre of mass anti-government demos, ratcheting up tensions in two weeks of deadly unrest.
A day after meeting with protest leaders and offering to hold a referendum on plans to redevelop Gezi Park, Mr Erdogan resumed his combative stance on the environmental protest that has morphed into the biggest challenge to his Islamic-rooted government’s decade-long rule. “I’m making my last warning: mothers, fathers please withdraw your kids from there,” Mr Erdogan said in a live television broadcast. “Gezi Park does not belong to occupying forces. It belongs to everybody.”
Demonstrators have been camping out in the park since 31 May, when police cracked down heavily on a small campaign to save the site’s 600 trees from being razed. The crackdown sparked an outpouring of anger across the country against Mr Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted government, seen as increasingly authoritarian after more than a decade in power.
Mr Erdogan inflamed tensions on Tuesday, when riot police stormed Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the focal point of two weeks of protests, prompting a day of violent clashes with tens of thousands of protesters. The intervention fuelled fears that the adjoining Gezi Park would be cleared next.
“Don’t sadden us anymore, let us clean Gezi park and return it to its rightful owners… the people of Istanbul,” Mr Erdogan said, urging environmental protesters to withdraw so that police could clear the site of “illegal organisations”.
The ultimatum came after Mr Erdogan yesterday made his first concession yet by offering to hold a popular vote on plans to build a replica of Ottoman-era military barracks in the park.