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Turkish protesters in park vow to stay put

Activists chat in front of their tents Saturday at Gezi Park in Istanbul, Turkey.
(Erdem Sahin / European Pressphoto Agency)

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Anti-government protesters on Saturday vowed to continue their occupation of Gezi Park in central Istanbul, spurning government calls for them to pack up and end two weeks of demonstrations.

“The government has ignored clear and rightful demands since the beginning of the resistance. They tried to divide, provoke and damage our legitimacy,” the Taksim Solidarity, a leading protest group, said in a statement. “This is just the beginning, resistance will continue.”

The announcement came despite negotiations with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan late Thursday and early Friday that yielded an agreement to freeze a development planned for the park pending resolution of outstanding legal issues and a referendum on the project.

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Throughout Friday and Saturday, there was little suggestion that protesters would leave Gezi Park. They number in the hundreds, drinking, dancing and eating. Government officials had hoped that by freezing construction, they could convince protesters to disperse.

Erdogan had surrounded the park with busloads of police on Thursday, raising fears that another brutal police raid against protesters camped out under sycamore trees was imminent. The Turkish Medical Assn. said four people have been killed with more than 5,000 injured since protests began two weeks ago.

The demonstrators distrust Erdogan, whom they believe should adopt a more inclusive approach to decision-making, while fearing his increasingly conservative policies are part of an attack on Turkey’s secular identity.

“We are going through a period in which the rights of people, including right to life, are trodden,” Taksim Solidarity said.

Despite eased tensions in Istanbul, protests -- which began as a marginal environmental sit-in against the destruction of Gezi Park and broadened into a display of anger with Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) -- have continued in other cities, notably the capital, Ankara.

Taksim Solidarity again called for the government to investigate accusations of police brutality during the protests.

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“We repeat that no serious legal action has yet been taken against those who perpetrated and oversaw the actions that lead to the killing of our friends, and … we will make sure those who are responsible for the violence are brought to justice.”

Government officials have repeatedly called on demonstrators to leave the park. The protests have cast international attention on Turkey – during Erdogan’s decade in power, viewed as a model of sound Islamic-inspired governance – scaring tourists away and causing jitters on the stock market.

In Ankara, Erdogan attended a rally of AKP party faithful and called the protests part of a conspiracy of foreigners and shady underground organizations seeking to destabilize the country, the Today’s Zaman newspaper reported.

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“You saw the plot that was being carried out, the trap being set,” local media reported Erdogan as saying. “You are here, and you are spoiling the treacherous plot, the treacherous attack!”

President Abdullah Gul, meanwhile, tweeted on Saturday that the “negotiation and dialogue” between the demonstrators and the government proved Turkey’s “democratic maturity.”

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“I believe this process will have good results. From now on everybody should return home,” he said.

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