Turkish court lifts block on Gezi Park development

By bne IntelliNews July 23, 2013

bne -

In a move sure to antagonize the enemies of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), an administrative court ruled on July 22 that the development of Gezi Park can move forward, and that demolition can start immediately.

The small green space just off Taksim Square in Istanbul was the epicenter of the protests that rocked Turkey over the first half of June. What began as small-scale protests over plans (said to be personally supervised by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan) to raze the park to rebuild an Ottoman-era army barracks morphed into country-wide demonstrations against Erdogan and what is perceived as his increasingly authoritarian and Islamist rule over the past decade. Heavy-handed police actions resulted in at least four deaths, thousands of injured, and untold damage to the country's reputation as an emerging regional political and economic power.

The Istanbul administrative court ruling on July 22 unanimously overturned a June 6 lower court's stay of execution for the small park. The original order in the case pitting the Taksim Gezi Park Protection and Beautification Association against the Culture and Tourism Ministry had helped take the sting out of the protests.

The Culture and Tourism Ministry's appeal against that lower court ruling has now prompted the Istanbul Sixth Administrative Court to lift the legal obstacles preventing Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality from demolishing Gezi Park. The ruling allows construction to proceed even before the State Council finalizes its decision on the development plans.

Hurriyet Daily News quoted a lawyer representing the opponents to the development plan as saying the court ruling has no legal basis and a redevelopment plan cannot be implemented. "They cannot drive a nail in Gezi Park, it will stay as a park," Can Atalay said.

The country remains a tinderbox. Arrests have continued despite the fact that large protest has died down, and the EU on July 9 expressed reservations over the detention of the original demonstrators against the demolition of the park.

"The European Commission is concerned at reports of the detention of members of Taksim Solidarity - and other members of the public wishing to exercise their right to free assembly - in Istanbul yesterday," commissioner for enlargement, Stefan Fule, said in a statement. "It is not clear on what grounds the detentions have been made. We are closely following measures taken by the authorities in follow up to recent protests, and underline the importance of respect for fundamental freedoms."

Journalists also continue to be targeted by the AKP, who have variously blamed the foreign press, spies and a mysterious "interest rate lobby" for provoking the protests. On July 22, Turkish journalist Tayfun Talipoglu was called in for questioning by the police about a tweet he posted during the events.

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