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Report: Court to hear case at center of Istanbul protests

By Gul Tuysuz, CNN
June 4, 2013 -- Updated 1224 GMT (2024 HKT)
  • NEW: An investigation will look at claims of excessive force on protesters, minister says
  • Court orders halt to construction until case is heard, news agency says
  • Demonstrators oppose the building of a shopping center in Istanbul
  • The Turkish government had vowed to go forward with the project

Istanbul (CNN) -- A district court said it has agreed to hear a case against the rebuilding of historic barracks -- a project that has been one of the catalysts for days of protests in the city, Turkey's semi-official Anadolu news agency reported Friday.

The court has ordered a temporary stop on any construction at Taksim Gezi Park, where the government plans to rebuild Ottoman Empire barracks and create a shopping arcade, Anadolu said.

The announcement came on the fourth day of protests in and around the park, which is in Istanbul's main commercial district. Demonstrators oppose the plans to rebuild the barracks because they say the government cares less about historical conservation and more about money.

Police fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters on Friday. Twelve people were injured -- including one critically -- in clashes, Istanbul's mayor and governor said at a joint news conference. Sixty-three people were detained, Istanbul Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu said.

Mayor Kadir Topbas emphasized the demolition in Taksim Gezi Park was not related to a project to construct a shopping mall there, but was a part a wider renovation project of Taksim Square.

Interior Minister Muammer Guler said that an investigation would be launched into claims of "disproportionate use of force" on protesters.

Protests continued Friday evening on a number of side streets, with police again dispersing a crowd that had gathered in nearby Taksim Square.

Turkey halts May Day protesters

Early Friday, protesters trying to block the bulldozers chanted slogans before police uprooted them from the park.

Demonstrators and police clashed as they moved to the main commercial street, with protesters throwing bottles, setting up barricades and burning trash in the middle of the street. Small groups of protesters also clashed with police in side streets.

Police also deployed tear gas in an attempt to disperse protesters on Thursday. Officers cleared out their tents and sleeping bags but failed to end to the sit-in.

Social media

Protesters rallied using Facebook and Twitter, and by Thursday night, the number of people in the park was in the thousands. Their protest has turned into an informal referendum on recent Turkish government policies.

"I saw it on TV ... saw that there were people, young people taking ownership of the environment. I wanted to support them, because I think not supporting them is inhumane," said Adalet Makar, a retired banker who spent Wednesday night at the park in her sleeping bag.

The demonstration has grown in size since late Monday. Public outcry over the proposed project, as well as the police tear gas interventions, have drawn more people to the park.

"Gas, gas, gas, it is the only way they deal with problems," said Esen Tuna, a 21-year-old architecture student.

Turkish police routinely use tear gas and water cannons to break up demonstrations.

Another protester, Elbruz Yilmaz, said the move to break up demonstrations was undemocratic.

"We are just trying to say something, and they are not hearing us. They are trying to stop us," Yilmaz said.

Government insistent

The government, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has made clear it will go ahead with the planned project.

"They can do whatever they want. We've made our decision, and we will do as we have decided," Erdogan said Wednesday, according to the semi-official Anadolu news agency.

Erdogan said that the rebuilding of the Ottoman barracks was a matter of having "respect for history."

Critics disagree, arguing that the project is a way for making profit from the sale of valuable real estate in Istanbul's main commercial district.

"This cannot be explained by saying this is historical conservation. It is not that, it is about money," said Ece Demirel, an activist with the Urban Movement Forum, an organization that tracks development projects across Turkey.

Erdogan taking heat

The government's other controversial policies have also come under fire.

Erdogan's policy on Syria, which many in Turkey blame for a twin car blast that killed at least 52, as well as a new law that would prohibit vendors from selling liquor from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., are part of the sit-in at Taksim Gezi Park.

"This is only the beginning, our struggle will continue," demonstrators chanted.

Many at the park said they believe this may be the beginning of a turning point in Turkey.

"This is an uprising, a protest against the increasing bans," said Michelle Demishevich, an activist and member of Turkey's Green Party. "Perhaps just like we saw the Arab Spring, this will be the Turkish Spring."

Read more: Police try to break up Istanbul shopping project protest

CNN's Ivan Watson contributed to this report.

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