Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told protesters yesterday that he would put redevelopment plans for an Istanbul park on hold until a court rules on them, striking a more conciliatory tone after two weeks of fierce anti-government demonstrations.
Mr Erdogan again called on the hundreds of protesters occupying Gezi Park to withdraw last night.
However, the atmosphere in their tented settlement was defiant, with a hard core of demonstrators chanting for him to resign. With ruling party rallies planned for the weekend, it remained unclear whether other protesters with grievances against Mr Erdogan would leave.
“You have stayed here as long as you could and have relayed your message. If your message is about Taksim Gezi Park, it has been received and evaluated,” Mr Erdogan said at a meeting of his AK Party. “Please now leave the Gezi Park and go to your homes.”
His pledge at an overnight meeting with a delegation of his opponents was largely symbolic, as the government is required by law to respect the outcome of the court ruling brought by the environmentalists trying to block the plan.
However, it contrasted with his earlier defiance when he attacked protesters who accuse him of autocratic behaviour as “riff-raff” and insisted the plans would go ahead in the adjacent park.
“Of course the government respects judicial rulings and is obliged to implement them,” said Huseyin Celik, deputy chairman of the ruling AK Party. “Until the judicial ruling is finalised there will not be any action whatsoever on Gezi Park.”
A police crackdown on peaceful campaigners in the park two weeks ago provoked an unprecedented wave of protest against Mr Erdogan and the AK Party – an association of centrists and conservative religious elements – drawing in secularists, nationalists, professionals, trade unionists and students.
A 26-year-old Turkish man died yesterday from injuries sustained during days of protests in Ankara, the fourth person to be killed in violence in several cities which left 5,000 injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association.
At the meeting, Mr Erdogan met a delegation made up largely of actors and artists but also including two members of the umbrella group Taksim Solidarity.
The delegation welcomed what it said was Mr Erdogan’s promise to respect the outcome of the court case filed against the plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks. That commitment followed an offer on Wednesday of a referendum on the plans if the court found in the government’s favour.
However, other demands including the release of detained protesters had not been met, Tayfun Kahraman, who was part of the delegation, told protesters from a stage in the park.
“We stood together and we stood tall,” Mr Kahraman said. “We told the prime minister that human dignity was trampled on by excessive use of police violence.”
However, his audience was sceptical. “You stayed four hours and got nothing,” shouted one man in the crowd, which began chanting “government resign”.
Taksim Solidarity said it would consult groups in the park before deciding how to respond. Mr Erdogan has repeatedly said the protesters, who have been braced for a police intervention for days, must leave.
“Our government has been very tolerant, as tolerant as it goes in a democracy, but I don’t think the government will leave that place under occupation for long,” Mr Celik said.
The United States voiced concern about reports of excessive use of police force, while the European Parliament warned Turkey on Thursday against using harsh measures against peaceful protesters and urged Mr Erdogan to take a “unifying and conciliatory” stance.
The comments were not welcomed by Ankara. “Turkey is not a nation that needs to be taught a lesson in any way on these topics,” foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.