Turkish Protesters Pledge to Continue Fight for Justice

World | June 15, 2013, Saturday // 13:29|  views

The Taksim Solidarity group pledges to continue their fight for justice and civil rights. Photo by EPA/BGNES

Turkish protesters have vowed to continue rallying in Istanbul's Taksim Square.

The Taksim Solidarity group announced after all-night discussions in Taksim's Gezi Park their movement was bigger than a simple environmental protest and pledged to continue their fight for justice and civil rights.

Their defiant statement came despite Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's promise to halt a redevelopment plan for the park, which sparked two weeks of anti-government unrest.

The PM's offer to stop the Gezi Park redevelopment until a court ruled on its legality was his first conciliatory gesture since the protests began.

He had previously taken a tough line on the protests, calling the demonstrators "extremists" and "looters." He said the unrest was being encouraged by foreign forces to undermine Turkey and its economy.

Meanwhile, in the capital Ankara, riot police have again deployed teargas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators overnight. About 30 protesters were reported by the BBC to have been arrested.

Erdogan softened his stance after meeting late Thursday evening with members of protest groups in the capital Ankara.

Rallies in support of the government are being held over the weekend in Istanbul and Ankara.

"These rallies do not aim at opposing one group of Turkish citizens to another, but they will give tribune to the silent majority and will show to us and the world the real face of Turkey," Erdogan is quoted in saying by Turkish media.

Turkey has seen tireless civil unrest sparked by a police crackdown on a local protest over construction plans for Gezi Park on Taksim square.

Five people, including a police officer, are reported to have died since the protests began, with thousands more hurt and hundreds arrested. There are fears that the dead toll might be much higher than the official reports.

The government says more than 500 police officers are among the injured. There are reports that 6 policemen have committed suicide and over 1 000 have resigned.

Three police officers in Izmir have been fired over using excessive force against a group of young people who had just been standing on the street, talking to each other.

Turkish NTV reported the policemen have been fired and are investigated after media showed footage of the three forcefully searching the youth and pulling the hair of a girl from the group.

The protests began on May 28 over plans to redevelop Gezi Park.

It is the only remaining park in Taksim district, and it was supposed to make way for the rebuilding of an Ottoman era military barracks to house a large shopping center.

The rallies spread quickly, engulfing a number of major cities, and eventually turned into demonstrations against the authoritarian and Islamic-leaning policy of the Turkish government and of Erdogan.

It was reported meanwhile that Abdullah Gul, the President of Turkey, has signed the controversial law imposing serious restrictions on alcohol sales in the country.

The law is seen as one of the sparks of the protests. In May, the Turkish Parliament approved the ban on selling alcohol, between 10 pm and 6 am.

Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu has scorned leading international media for what he saw as biased reports from the protests aiming at tarnishing his country's image.

Davutoglu points out that in the last decade mass protest rallies, similar to those on Taksim, have been staged across Europe and the US, but global media reported on them calmly seeing them as normal part of the democratic process.

On Thursday, he also reacted strongly to a European Parliament resolution that expressed concern over the brutal crackdown on protests in the country.

Erdogan also stands defiant before EU criticism.

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