PM takes no back step in Gezi Park plans, calls for an end to protests
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addresses members of Parliament from his ruling AK Party during a meeting at the Turkish Parliament in Ankara on June 11, 2013. (Photo: Reuters, Ümit Bektaş)
On the 15th day of demonstrations in İstanbul's central square of Taksim on Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave no signs of quitting his plans for Gezi Park and repeated his call for the withdrawal of the protesters from the area.
Erdoğan allocated most of his speech he delivered at his party's parliamentary group meeting to the ongoing Gezi Park demonstrations that began at the end of last month in protest of government plans for a redevelopment of Gezi Park. The demonstrations have spread across other provinces in the country and turned into anti-government protests.
The government was planning to restructure the Gezi Park area as part of a project called “Topçu Kışlası,” which included the demolition of the green space and constructing an Ottoman-style barracks that would house a shopping mall. Prime Minister Erdoğan had said a mosque will also be erected in the area following growing criticism towards him due to the Topçu Kışlası project.
“Our determination about Gezi Park [plans] will continue. Gezi Park is not an area of occupation,” Erdoğan said in reference to the demonstrators.
He said the protesters were being used by some circles under the cover of protecting Gezi Park.
“These demonstrations are being explicitly used by some capital groups, interest lobbies and media outlets. Those who are demonstrating in Taksim now are being openly used by those who target the Turkish economy, tourism and investment. I want all the demonstrators there to see the big picture, to understand the game being played and I invite them to leave the area. I expect this as the prime minister of this country,” he said.
With regards to claims that Erdoğan is using harsh rhetoric towards the protesters, he said: “Would we kneel down in front of them and ask them to remove those scraps from the Atatürk Culture Center [AKM]? When we speak to them, they say, ‘The prime minister is speaking harshly.' If you describe this as harsh, pardon me, but Tayyip Erdoğan cannot change.”
By “scraps,” Erdoğan was referring to the flags and banners that were hung in front of the AKM and Cumhuriyet (Republic) Statue by marginal or left-wing groups in Taksim Square.
The prime minister also refuted claims that his government is being discriminative to some groups, noting that services of his government that are visible in every part of the country prove that it is not discriminative.
“We have always been in support of embracing one another and getting united. We have been assessing the incidents taking place for the past two weeks in detail. We are investigating what those on the streets are stating. We have never put sensitivities of those circles aside. I wonder whether what they want to demand is clear. We will never allow mixing apples with oranges,” he said.
Turkey's most widespread anti-government protests in decades erupted on May 31 after a violent police crackdown on a peaceful sit-in by protesters objecting to a project replacing the park with a replica of Ottoman-era Topçu Barracks.
The prime minister said it is not possible to explain the incidents that have continued for two weeks with environmental concerns.
“Four people have been killed [due to the demonstrations]. More than 600 citizens, most of whom are policemen, have been injured. Is this respect for the environment? An environmental disaster has been created with ugly graffiti on buildings. The stores of salesmen have been plundered. With the constant noise of horns and pots and pans, people have been disturbed in their homes. Those who give us an environmental lesson should keep in mind that noise pollution is also a threat against the environment,” added the prime minister.
On Tuesday, Erdoğan also thanked Turkish security forces for their efforts to intervene in the protests and remove the flags of marginal groups from the AKM.
“I offer my thanks to the [interior] minister and İstanbul governor for the operation they conducted this morning. All those scraps were removed from the AKM. Our security forces have taken control of the culture center,” he said.