PM Erdoğan calls on demonstrators to end Gezi Park protest, no step back from project

PM Erdoğan calls on demonstrators to end Gezi Park protest, no step back from project

PM Erdoğan calls on demonstrators to end Gezi Park protest, no step back from project

Turkish PM Erdoğan admitted that there were 'mistakes' in the use of tear gas by the police forces, without criticising their action. AA photo

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called on demonstrators protesting the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park to end their mobilization, without back-peddling on the Artillary Barracks project that initially sparked the protests.

“I'm warning those who came there with honest feelings - they have been subject to illegal groups, they should not comply with them. I plead that they immediately end this protest,” Erdoğan said June 1 in a speech at the 20th congress of Turkey's Exporters Assembly. 

He described the demonstrations as “ideological” rather than “environmental.” “Nobody has the right to raise tensions with the excuse that trees are being cut down,” he said, claiming that the opposition was “manipulating” the protests. 

He also reiterated that the demolition underway was related to the enlargement of the pedestrian road at the Harbiye entrance of the park, and not to the controversial Artillery Barracks project. “But the issue is not the 5-10 trees that are being removed. The demonstration that started with the Gezi Park protests has become ideological,” Erdoğan said, without giving any signals that the reconstitution of the historic barracks would be halted. “The barracks have to be built in their place, while protecting the current green area. They say that some would get rent out of this. We are only aiming for our people to receive rents.”

He said the much debated Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM), also on Taksim Square, should also be demolished, proposing to build an opera house there instead.

‘Mistakes’ in tear gas use

Erdoğan admitted that there were mistakes in the use of tear gas by the police forces, saying an “investigation” had been launched. He nevertheless added that the police officers worked in very difficult conditions and praised their vigilance, especially towards shop owners. “There are some people who have very dark [pasts]. We know from intelligence reports,” Erdoğan said, describing reports of the deaths of protesters on social media “calumnies.” “We see that [those who spread these kind of] reports are the same fascists who said ‘you should hang them in gallows,’” he added.

The prime minister said it was unfair to accuse the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of being anti-environmental, and also said the protesters at Gezi Park were being “dishonest,” as there was no interlocutor expressing a common demand.

Critics who say that Istanbul needs a park similar to New York’s Central Park are “not even aware” of the area of the plot of New York's recently built land disposal facility, Erdoğan said, adding that these critics also “refused” to see Istanbul's assets, such as Yıldız Park.

New York’s Central Park is around 3.4 square kilometres of land, while Yıldız Park is around 0.29 square kilometres of land.

Erdoğan ended his speech with an ominous warning to main opposition Republican People's Party (AKP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who is set to deliver a speech in Istanbul's Beşiktaş district before moving to Taksim. “If you use provocative words, our people will never forgive you. If it comes down to making a meeting, if you gather 100,000 people, I can gather a million,” he said.

Court's suspension order 'raises question marks'

In a later speech Erdoğan questioned the court decision on suspending the Artillery Barracks project, noting that the way to appeal was open. 

"Did we announce the project? What happened for you to come and make such a statement yesterday [May 31] evening? This raises question marks," Erdoğan said defiantly. "It is not right for anybody to make a step putting caution aside. Especially the judiciary. The opposition takes refuge behind this ruling and says the court ordered a suspension. But [they should] hold on."