Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has raised the possibility of bringing the issue of the demolition of Gezi Park to a referendum, the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Spokesperson Huseyin Celik said on Wednesday.
The comments came as the riots against Erdogan, which erupted after police cracked down heavily on May 31 on a campaign to save Gezi Park from redevelopment, continued.
According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Celik spoke at a press conference following a marathon meeting between Erdogan and a group of 11 people representing the protesters. He said the government would look into the issue of organizing a referendum in Istanbul.
“The prime minister said that since we want to know what the people think, we can bring the option of a referendum to the concerned bodies. With a decision from the AKP’s Central Executive Committee, the necessary step could be undertaken,” Celik said during the press conference, reported the Hurriyet.
He added that the referendum would only be on the reconversion of the iconic park to the replica of the historic Artillery Barracks, a flagship venue that was announced by the prime minister.
It was initially said that the building would comprise a shopping center, which sparked an outcry among citizens who opposed the demolition of Istanbul’s green lung at the heart of its entertainment area.
Celik added that the demolition of the Ataturk Cultural Center would not be included in the referendum as the building was not strong enough to survive an earthquake.
“The concrete result of the meeting is the following: We can bring this issue to a referendum. Not for the whole of Turkey, but we will ask the citizens of Istanbul,” he said, calling on the protesters to end their demonstration.
“I address my young brothers that demonstrate, sleep, eat and drink at Gezi Park. Since there is such a decision for the possibility of a referendum, we think that after this gesture of goodwill Gezi Park should be emptied and life there should be brought back to normal,” said Celik, according to the Hurriyet.
However, following Celik’s statement, the group that met with Erdogan said that they had not been consulted regarding the possibility of organizing a referendum.
“As people who believe in dialogue we think that a communication line has been opened. We are not anyone’s spokesperson. We want Gezi Park to remain a park and we want those responsible [for the police crackdowns] to be investigated,” one academic, Ipek Akpinar, said on behalf of the group, adding that they made clear that they did not have any authority on the government’s solutions.
“We will not make public our personal opinions tonight. We will announce it from tomorrow,” she added, reported the Hurriyet.
Erdogan had earlier met with group of 11 people, including artists, academics and students, regarding the protests, as part of the government’s attempt to listen to the demands of the demonstrators.
Erdogan agreed to hold talks with protest leaders on Monday, in what was viewed as his first major concession since the trouble began.
However, some activists had doubts about the talks’ legitimacy, and some of those invited had declined to meet with Erdogan, reported the Hurriyet.
The Taksim Platform had announced that they were not notified of a meeting and the group “does not represent” the protestors across the country. The group, which started the protests 16 days ago, had made six demands to the deputy prime minister in a meeting last week, including the ban or severe restrictions in the use of tear gas and the dismissal of officials that were involved in the violent police crackdowns, especially during the first days of the protests.