Top Court Approves Istanbul Development that Sparked Protests

Turkey's top administrative court has removed its block on the controversial redevelopment of an Istanbul park that in 2013 sparked the most serious anti-government protests in years, a pressure group said Thursday.

Istanbul authorities had planned to rebuild an Ottoman-era barracks on the site of Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces in the city center, at the fringes of Taksim Square.

But the construction was blocked by court order after the mass protests in May-June 2013 that snowballed into a wave of public anger against the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then premier, and left eight people dead.

But the Taksim Solidarity pressure group, which monitors the issue, said Turkey's top administrative court, the Council of State, had reversed its previous decision to block the construction.

It denounced the authorities for putting "the pursuit of short term economic interests before our political, natural, historic and cultural assets" and said the decision was "evidence of the political pressure on the judiciary".

"The decision is devoid of all professional, ethical and scientific principles," it said.

The group warned that "Taksim Square and Gezi Park are no longer just under the protection of Istanbul and Turkey but under the whole world".

The court decision was taken on March 31, after a rare appeal by the municipality of Istanbul.

However the ruling was never communicated publicly and was first reported by the Cumhuriyet daily on Wednesday, before being confirmed by Taksim Solidarity.

Turkish opposition newspapers said that the ruling had been made possible because of the support of three pro-government judges who had joined the body in 2014.

News of the ruling angered secular opponents of the Islamic-rooted Erdogan. The Twitter hashtag #SanaGeziyiYiktirmayacagiz (We will not let you destroy Gezi) has become a worldwide trending topic.

The decision by the Council of the State paves the way for the creation of an expert panel that could then give the green light for the redevelopment.

"We know what you (the authorities) want to do, don't even consider it!" said the Taksim Solidarity statement.

The general secretary of Istanbul's chamber of architects Mucella Yapici, who is a leader of the Taksim Solidarity movement, did not rule out further protests if the development went ahead.

"We have our duty as citizens and we will not hesitate to fulfill it, despite all the repression," she was quoted as saying by the Dogan news agency.

Twitter users meanwhile posted pictures of the 2013 protests and threatened to take to the streets again. "Season Two, Episode One," wrote one user.

Before the protests, the municipality had aimed to rebuild the 19th century barracks for luxury commercial and residential use.

The barracks -- designed by the famous Armenian-origin Balyan family of Ottoman architects -- had stood for decades but were badly damaged during a rebellion in 1909.

After housing Turkey's first football stadium in the 1920s, the barracks were demolished in the 1940s and Gezi Park built in their place as part of an urban transformation plan.

Opponents of Erdogan have bitterly criticized his ambitious projects for Istanbul -- including a huge new airport and a third bridge across the Bosphorus -- for ruining the historic charm of the city.

Erdogan, who likes to call the ambitious infrastructure plans his "crazy projects", has said support for this vision should be a condition for any party seeking to go into a government coalition after June 7 elections.

Despite some splits within his party during the 2013 rallies, Erdogan showed no sympathy for the protesters, famously dismissing them as "capulcular" (hooligans).

Twenty-six leaders of Taksim Solidarity, including Yapici, had been put on trial over the protests but all were acquitted in April.

Source: Agence France Presse

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