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News Analysis: Protest rallies lose steam in Turkey after PM asks for referendum


08:40, June 14, 2013

ANKARA, June 13 (Xinhua) -- The momentum of the two-week long anti-government protests in Turkey has weakened significantly following the government's green light to hold a plebiscite over the redevelopment plan of Gezi Park in Istanbul's Taksim Square.

"I think this is the best solution at the moment to resolve the tense situation that was triggered when the government moved in on protesters who just wanted to keep a green park from bulldozing in the first place," Idris Gursoy, an Ankara-based political analyst told Xinhua.

"The compromise solution may appease most protesters, if not all, and diffuse the tension," he said.

Huseyin Celik, deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), said Wednesday that the government would consider holding a plebiscite on Gezi Park's redevelopment project, which had triggered public discontent and later confrontation between demonstrators and the police.

The government was planning to restructure the park area as part of a replica for old military barracks that would house a shopping mall. The plan was later changed to include a city museum.

The urban renewal project will now be presented to residents in Istanbul for approval or rejection in a referendum that will be held according to regulations in the municipal law.

The public support to the protests has quickly faded when it turned into violence, vandalism and destruction of public and private properties after two days of peaceful protests last week.

The government was quick to use the public outrage at the ensuing violence in rallies, and finally separated between peaceful protesters and extremist groups that tried to hijack what was an environmental rally in the first place.

"The government has learned from its initial mistake of using excessive force without differentiating between peaceful protesters and violent ones," said Ali Aslan Kilic, an expert on Turkish politics in Ankara.

"Now they are being very careful and testing the waters before taking any step in order not to aggravate the situation," he said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's five-hour meeting with representatives of the protesters on Wednesday seemed to have broken the impasse, paving the way for holding a referendum to determine the fate of Gezi Park.

"Now it is different," said Orhan Miroglu, an intellectual. " Leftist and marginal groups have been separated from the environmentalist groups and the public can see their differences."

"This is a source of relief for the government," he added.

"If this idea [of holding referendum] is embraced, this will be a first in Turkey. Thus, a referendum will be held for the first time for an urban planning project," Miroglu said.

The government is in a much better position to handle the crisis now and has already issues repeated warnings for extremists mingled in the peaceful protesters.

"Those with bad intentions, seeking provocation and persisting in staying at the park will be facing the police," Erdogan said, claiming that illegal and dangerous organizations have taken over the protests.

Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu said that security forces do not have immediate plans to dislodge protesters from Gezi Park at this point of time.

Early on Thursday, some hundreds of demonstrators chanted and sang at Taksim Square, defying the government call to end protests.

The two-week long clashes between police and protesters across Turkey have killed at least five people, including a policeman, and injured some 5,000.

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