Main opposition’s Istanbul mayoral candidate calls for shelving Taksim project

Main opposition’s Istanbul mayoral candidate calls for shelving Taksim project

Main opposition’s Istanbul mayoral candidate calls for shelving Taksim project

Mustafa Sarıgül speaks during a press statement in Istanbul's Taksim, Feb 6. CİHAN photo

The Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) candidate for Istanbul mayoralty in the upcoming local elections, Mustafa Sarıgül, has called on the Metropolitan Municipality to shelve the controversial pedestrianization project of Taksim Square, one of the city’s most popular entertainment areas.

“We won’t let them play with Taksim. This project has nothing architectural about it, but it is childish,” Sarıgül said in a press statement Feb. 6, a day after Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş revealed new images of the landscape project.

The current mayor of the nearby Şişli district also vowed to organize a project contest if elected in the March 30 elections. 

“The contest would be national and international. A committee will assess the three best projects, and then submit it to Istanbul residents,” Sarıgül said. 

The controversial pedestrianization was partly responsible for igniting the massive nationwide Gezi protests last summer, which started as local demonstrations to prevent trees from being cut down at Gezi Park, which is adjacent to Taksim Square. Protesters also initially demanded the withdrawal of a project to build a replica of the Ancient Artillery Barracks as part of the redevelopment plan. 

Sarıgül urged Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş to suspend works on the project until the elections. “I want to tell Topbaş this: You can plan a lot of things, but Istanbul residents will not let you complete them. Please put this project on the shelf. In 53 days, we will submit the Taksim Gezi project to our citizens,” Sarıgül said, announcing he would propose building a monument for the protesters who died during the nationwide Gezi protests. 

“We have lost seven citizens as martyrs in the name of democracy in Taksim. Our project will include proposing to our citizens to build a monument for democracy,” he added.

The popular politician, who joined the CHP after a long period of uncertainty, is widely perceived as the only figure who could beat the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) candidate for Istanbul. He was recently accused of corruption by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, after Turkey’s state fund moved to seize some of his assets two weeks ago for an alleged unpaid loan acquired in 1998.

The CHP has brushed aside the allegations, describing them as a “sign of panic” at the prospect of losing the elections in Turkey’s largest city.