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Turkish government offers referendum: Will it quell protests?

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government proposed a referendum on an Istanbul development project on Wednesday. Meanwhile, protests continued in Taksim Square's Gezi Park. Four people have died and more than 5,000 have been injured in the two-week-long protests. 

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But many protesters were skeptical.

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"I don't think anything changed with that," said Hatice Yamak of the referendum plan. "We don't think he will do it — I think he's lying."

Other protesters were suspicious of how the vote would be held.

"I think there will be a referendum but it won't be fair," said Mert Yildirim, a 28-year-old who had been attending the protests every night. "They will announce that the people want Gezi Park to become a shopping mall. They will cheat."

But Erdogan's maneuver could prove shrewd, by putting the protesters in a position of rejecting a referendum — a quintessential exercise of democracy. Many of them have accused Erdogan, who was re-elected in 2011 and has presided over striking economic growth, of showing an increasingly authoritarian streak.

"(The referendum proposal) falls short, and it won't help. This is not the way town planning is done," said Korhan Gumus, an architect and member of the Taksim Solidarity Platform activist group. "The referendum will polarize society even more. (Gezi Park) will become a battleground."

Party spokesman Celik appeared confident that Erdogan would be vindicated at the ballot box: "We cannot predict the decision of the people, but we believe that our people will side with our party's position."

As if to let the referendum proposal sink in, the Istanbul governor, Huseyin Avni Mutlu, tweeted that riot police would not enter the park on Wednesday.

Turkish leaders were also grappling with a public image stain. International TV networks have beamed images of clashes on the square, including a muscular police sweep overnight Tuesday to Wednesday that Turkey's Human Rights Foundation said injured more than 600 people, including a 1-year-old baby.

In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron called the events in Istanbul "disturbing and concerning," while stopping short of criticizing Erdogan's response. A spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany's government was watching developments "with great preoccupation," and urged "de-escalation."

Over the two weeks, four people have died in the protests, including a police officer, and more than 5,000 people have been injured or sought treatment for tear gas.

The protests took a new flavor earlier Wednesday as thousands of black-robed lawyers stormed out of their courthouses to deride allegedly rough treatment of their colleagues detained by police a day earlier. Sema Aksoy, the deputy head of the Ankara lawyer's association, said the lawyers were handcuffed and pulled over the ground. She called the police action an affront to Turkey's judicial system.

"Lawyers can't be dragged on the ground!" the demonstrating lawyers shouted in rhythm as they marched out of an Istanbul courthouse. Riot police stood off to the side, shields at the ready.

A spokesman for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. said police had detained two of its reporters covering the protests in Istanbul. Sasa Petricic and Derek Stoffel were in "good condition," CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called the Turkish ambassador to express his concerns.

Keaten reported from Ankara. Suzan Fraser and Ezgi Akin in Ankara, Cassandra Vinograd in London, Juergen Baetz in Berlin, and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

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