Erdogan quiets Istanbul with softer tone, but calm is likely to be brief

Prime Minister Erdogan temporarily placated Turkish protesters by pausing development of Gezi Park, but their grievances run deeper. It will take more to stop demonstrations for good.

Vadim Ghirda/AP
Protesters hold hands to isolate an area for others to attend prayers in Taksim square, Friday. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan softened his tone, telling Taksim Square's protesters that he has received their message and will at least temporarily halt plans for redeveloping Gezi Park.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his party members in Ankara, Turkey, Friday. Erdogan said he has asked a small delegation of protesters to convince those occupying Gezi Park to withdraw, adding that he is hopeful their protest action would end later in the day.

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Today, only a day after issuing his “final” warning to Taksim Square’s protesters, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan softened his tone, telling them that he has received their message and will at least temporarily halt plans for redeveloping Gezi Park.

After a night of meetings with protest representatives, Mr. Erdogan announced in a speech that the future of Gezi Park, the issue that sparked two-week long anti-government demonstrations, will be decided by the courts, reports the Guardian.

Although tensions across the country have eased since reaching a fever pitch earlier this weekmany believe that Erdogan’s bid to defuse the unrest won’t be enough to end the demonstrations. For many, the protests are about something much bigger than the issue of Gezi Park: the direction Turkey will take in the future.

Protests began two weeks ago, when a group of peaceful protesters staged a demonstration to attempt to stop the destruction of Gezi Park, one of Istanbul’s last green spaces, to make way for a mall and housing complex. After police violently broke up the sit-in, thousands more took to the streets to protest what they see has the increasingly authoritarian style of Erdogan’s rule and the gradual erosion of secular values by his Islam-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), says the Los Angeles Times.

Protesters accuse Erdogan, who won 50 percent of the vote in his last election, of behaving like an autocrat and only representing those who voted for him. Much of the country feels increasingly alienated by controversial policies, such as limiting the sale of alcohol and birth control.

Though at first defiant, even going so far as to label the protesters as "terrorists," Erdogan came under increasing pressure after several brutal police crackdowns which resulted in injuries to some 5,000 people. Yesterday the European Parliament voted to condemn Turkey for its use of violence against the demonstrators. And according to Today’s Zaman, Germany is seeking to suspend Turkey’s EU accession talks

Should the court rule in favor of the government, a referendum will be held over the fate of Gezi Park. But many protesters told The Christian Science Monitor this is not enough.

Demonstrators and others at odds with the government say they are skeptical of its commitment to conducting a free and fair referendum about the park. Many point out that Erdogan could have held such a vote long before the situation escalated to clashes between protesters and police.

“We don’t trust the results of these elections. Maybe they’ll change the results,” says Yasin Arslan, an aeronautical engineer now in Gezi Park.”

What’s more, it is not clear that Erdogan's concessions will end the demonstrations. According to Al-Monitor, the Taksim Platform – a coalition of 80 NGOs leading the protests – have stated that they will neither honor a referendum nor vacate the park.

This weekend, as protestors remain at their camps, the AKP will be holding mass rallies in Istanbul and Ankara, reports Today’s Zaman. Widely believed to be displays of force to counter the anti-government protests, AKP officials claim that the rallies are simply a part of their campaign for 2014 municipal elections.

But as Bloomberg points out, opposition parties have called for their cancellation, fearing that the rallies will only stoke tensions.

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