Turkey’s leader meets with park protesters

Talks follow his ‘final warning’ to end occupation

Antigovernment protesters continued their sit-in at Gezi Park in Istanbul on Thursday amid growing indications police are preparing to clear the area.
Antigovernment protesters continued their sit-in at Gezi Park in Istanbul on Thursday amid growing indications police are preparing to clear the area.

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s prime minister met with representatives of antigovernment protesters early Friday but emerged with no 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.

Before the meeting, Erdogan had told the protesters he was giving them a ‘‘final warning’’ to leave the park. Although the post-midnight talks ended on what both sides indicated was a positive note, the possibility remained that the protesters would refuse to leave and the police would be sent in to clear them out.


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. Since then, hundreds and often thousands of people have set up camp in the park.

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The demonstrations have expanded 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 the future of Gezi Park after that, he said.

Representatives from Taksim Solidarity, a group that has been organizing much of the activity in the Gezi occupation, said they had been promised the construction at the park would be frozen. They said they would take the meeting’s conclusions back to the protesters later Friday.


It was unclear what the response would be. Although Taksim Solidarity has emerged as the most high-profile group in the occupation, it does not speak for everyone camping in the park. Many say they have no affiliation to any group.

The prime minister had maintained a hard line against the demonstrations, angrily denouncing the protesters as looters and vandals. He has said the unrest was instigated by a variety of interests, including foreign media and interest rate lobbies intent on destroying Turkey’s reputation.

As Erdogan held talks in the capital, Ankara, Istanbul’s governor hosted a meeting through the night with any protesters who cared to join him at a cafe near Taksim Square — vowing to consult with them ‘‘until the morning if necessary’’ on finding a solution to the sit-in.

‘‘I hope this meeting will be a message to youngsters from different ages in Gezi Park ... we are trying to end this issue without [police] having to intervene,’’ Huseyin Avni Mutlu told reporters on the way in.

In the park and on Taksim Square, thousands gathered in a peaceful, festive show of defiance earlier in the night, many dancing to tunes played on a grand piano delivered to the square on a truck.


In Ankara, however, a demonstration by hundreds of protesters rallying in sympathy with the activists turned violent, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

On Thursday, Erdogan gave his starkest warning yet that the protests, which have trained an unflattering spotlight on his Islamic-rooted government, must end.

‘‘We have arrived at the end of our patience,’’ said Erdogan, who urged parents whose children were in the park to persuade them to leave.

Earlier this week, riot police armed with tear gas, water cannon and plastic bullets moved into Taksim Square and cleared it of protesters and banners in a day-long operation as groups of demonstrators fought back with stones, firebombs, bottles, and fireworks.

Although the vast majority of the thousands camping in the park have been peaceful, police fired dozens of rounds of tear gas among the tents. Volunteers at a makeshift infirmary said hundreds were treated for injuries or the effects of tear gas.