ISTANBUL – A meeting between Turkey’s prime minister and representatives of anti-government protesters ended early today without a clear resolution on how to end the occupation of a central Istanbul park that has become a flashpoint for the largest political crisis of his 10-year rule.
The talks between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the protesters were an effort to resolve a sit-in at Taksim Square’s Gezi Park without resorting to a police intervention to clear out the demonstrators.
Erdogan on Thursday told the protesters he was giving them a “final warning” to leave the park. Although the late-night talks ended on what both sides indicated was a positive note, the possibility remained that protesters would refuse to leave and the police would be sent to remove them.
A violent police crackdown on May 31 against a small environmental protest aiming to prevent a development project at the park sparked protests that spread to dozens of cities across Turkey.
The demonstrations have morphed into a broader protest against what many say is the prime minister’s increasingly authoritarian style and his perceived attempts to impose his religious and conservative views on a country with secular laws – charges Erdogan strongly rejects.
Nationwide, five people, including a police officer, have died and more than 5,000 protesters and 600 police have been reported injured in clashes.
Speaking after the overnight meeting, Huseyin Celik, spokesman for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, said construction work at the park would be frozen until a pending court decision is issued on whether the work is legal. A referendum could be held on Gezi Park, he said.
Representatives from Taksim Solidarity, a group that has organized much of the activity in the Gezi occupation, said they had been promised construction at the park would be frozen, and said they would take the meeting’s conclusions back to the protesters later today.