ISTANBUL — Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party ordered protesters out of an Istanbul park Wednesday, while making a limited concession in the form of an offer to hold a referendum on redevelopment plans that caused nearly two weeks of riots.
Huseyin Celik, deputy chairman of the Justice and Development (AK) Party, said hundreds of demonstrators still camped in Gezi Park, which adjoins Taksim Square in the heart of Istanbul, must leave immediately.
Police fired tear gas into thousands of people gathered on Taksim late on Tuesday, sending them scattering into side streets, before bulldozing barricades and reopening the square to traffic for the first time since the troubles began.
But a ramshackle settlement of tents pitched in Gezi Park in the corner of the square, in what began as a peaceful campaign over plans to build there, were left largely untouched as skirmishes raged around them.
"Those with bad intentions or who seek to provoke and remain in the park will [now] be facing the police," Celik told a news conference following a meeting between Erdogan and a group of public figures linked to the Gezi protesters.
There was an uneasy calm on Taksim, with small groups of demonstrators chanting while riot police looked on.
A heavy-handed police crackdown on Gezi Park nearly two weeks ago triggered an unprecedented wave of protest against the perceived authoritarianism of Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party, drawing in a broad alliance of secularists, nationalists, professionals, unionists, and students.
Riot police fired tear gas and water cannon day after day in several cities, clashes which left three people dead including a policeman and some 5,000 thousand injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association.
The offer to hold a referendum on the park redevelopment was one of the only concessions the authorities have publicly floated, after days of firm rhetoric from Erdogan refusing to back down. Celik gave few details of how a referendum would be carried out, saying it could either be held across Istanbul or just in the district near Taksim.
Protesters also want the government to punish those responsible for the violent police crackdown.
"We think it is indispensable that Gezi Park should remain as a park, violence should stop and those who responsible for violence should be investigated," said Ipek Akpinar, an architect who was among the delegation that met with Erdogan.
Erdogan has accused foreign forces, international media, and market speculators of stoking conflict and trying to undermine the economy of the only largely Muslim NATO state.
Two foreign correspondents from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) were detained by police on Wednesday, prompting Foreign Minister John Baird to announce on his Twitter account that he had called the Turkish ambassador to voice concern.
CBC quoted the Turkish ambassador to Canada as saying they were expected to be released shortly.
Turkey's broadcasting authority said it was fining four television channels over their coverage of the protests on the grounds of inciting violence, media reports said.
LAWYERS PROTEST ARRESTS
Hundreds of lawyers packed the entrance hall of Istanbul's main Palace of Justice, chanting slogans to protest at the detention of their colleagues a day earlier in a demonstration supporting the Gezi Park protests.
"Prosecutor resign," "Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance," "shoulder-to-shoulder against fascists," the lawyers shouted, dressed in their court gowns, some shaking their fists, others clapping.
Several hundred lawyers held a protest march in Ankara and there were smaller protests by lawyers in other cities.
President Abdullah Gul, who has struck a more conciliatory tone than Erdogan, said it was the duty of government to engage with critics but also appeared to close ranks with the prime minister, saying violent protests were a different matter.
"If people have objections . . . then to engage in a dialogue with these people, to hear out what they say, is no doubt our duty," Gul said. "Those who employ violence are something different and we have to distinguish them. . . . This would not be allowed in New York, this would not be allowed in Berlin."
Erdogan's tough talk has endeared him to voters for the past decade, but his opponents say it has now poured fuel on the flames. On Tuesday he said would not kneel before the protesters and that "this Tayyip Erdogan won't change."
The United States, which has held up Erdogan's Turkey in the past as an example of Muslim democracy that could benefit other countries in the Middle East, expressed concern about events in Turkey and urged dialogue between government and protesters.
The European Union also raised concern about the police clearance of Taksim overnight. Top EU officials have called on Erdogan's government to investigate cases of excessive force.
Erdogan argues that the broader mass of people have been manipulated by extremists and terrorists and says his political authority derives from his popular mandate in three successive election victories.
© 2015 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.