Turkey may redevelop Istanbul`s controversial protest park

 Turkish authorities have signalled they intend to go ahead with the redevelopment of Istanbul`s Gezi Park, the project that sparked deadly anti-government protests last year, reports said on Wednesday.

AFP| Updated: Nov 19, 2014, 17:47 PM IST

Istanbul: Turkish authorities have signalled they intend to go ahead with the redevelopment of Istanbul`s Gezi Park, the project that sparked deadly anti-government protests last year, reports said on Wednesday.

The controversial plans to raze the park and rebuild an Ottoman-era army barracks on the site, which is adjacent to the main Taksim Square, have been included in the Istanbul municipality`s strategic agenda for 2015-2016.

The total budget for the project, named "The Urban Reconstruction of Taksim Square and the Taksim Barracks," is set at 12 million lira (USD 5.4 million, EUR 4.3 million), private Dogan news agency said. 

It includes the construction of a replica of the barracks -- known as the Topcu Kislasi in Turkish -- which was built in the early 19th century during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Selim III but demolished in 1940.

An initially small-scale campaign to save Gezi Park in May 2013 eventually drew an estimated three million protesters in a nationwide outpouring of anger at the perceived authoritarian tendencies of the Islamic-rooted government.

Eight people died and thousands were injured in the ensuing violence as police launched a brutal crackdown, frequently employing tear gas and water cannon.

In a bid to end the protests, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was then prime minister, agreed to halt the park`s redevelopment and offered to hold a referendum. 

A court later overturned a judgement allowing the redevelopment of the park because of a lack of public consultation.

However it was not clear whether the municipality`s plans mean work will resume at the park, which is shut down at the slightest whiff of public dissent. 

Erdogan`s government is frequently criticised for its ambitious construction plans that include a third airport in Istanbul and a third bridge across the Bosphorus. 

He has also come under fire over a new 1,000-room presidential palace in Ankara that is costing Turkey more than USD 600 million. 

Activists however have already vowed to take to the streets should the plans for Taksim Square go forward. 

"It is an insult to millions of people living in this city," said Ali Cerkezoglu, a doctor who is among the 26 alleged leaders of Taksim Solidarity, the main activist group behind the protests, who are currently on trial for their roles. 

"It is disgraceful and totally anti-people," he said, quoted by the Cumhuriyet daily. "The combative people of this land will not bow to these fait accomplis. There will be a retaliation in kind." 

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu last month labelled Taksim "the ugliest square in the world", indicating the government was still hoping to redevelop it.