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Istanbul court halts explosive Taksim Gezi Park overhaul

An Istanbul court has blocked controversial regeneration plans which sparked a month of protests across Turkey

The city’s 1st Administrative Court ruled against the divisive scheme on 6 June but the verdict was kept secret until a separate court revealed it to the public last week.

The 6 June injunction – brought by the Chamber of Landscape Architects and the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects’ Chambers (TMMOB) against the Ministry of Culture and Tourism – halted works to pedestrianize Taksim Square which started eight months ago and included plans to reconstruct an Ottoman-era barracks on Gezi Park.

Emre Baturay Altınok, lawyer of Chamber of Landscape Architects, told the English language daily, Today’s Zaman:‘The project for the pedestrianization of Taksim has been cancelled as a result of the suit we brought.

‘It means there are no grounds for the works in progress in Taksim. The area should be reversed back to its original state. They have to stop the excavations and fill in the spaces.’

The plaintiffs had successfully argued the scheme was against the public interest, violated urban development and planning methods and breached laws concerning the protection of cultural and natural properties.

The decision was revealed by Istanbul’s 6th Administrative Court which rejected a request by the Culture and Tourism Ministry to lift the injunction last week.

It is unclear whether the government will appeal the ruling however Baturay Altınok said: ‘[The] government and ministries might choose to draft another project and it might be subject to a legal dispute one more time.

‘Then as the TMMOB, we would assess how to act. Let’s wait and see.’

Protestors descended on Gezi Park in May after bulldozers uprooted trees in what was thought to be the start of work on the controversial Topçu Barracks Project.

Four people died – including one police officer – and more than 5,000 were thought to have been injured in the month-long protests which followed and peaked again on Saturday (6 July) when demonstrators attempted to re-enter the padlocked park.

AJ Publications editor James Pallister – who visited the city last weekend – said: ‘Prior to Saturday’s march – and attempted renetry into Gezi Park - Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu had warned that the protest aimed at entering Gezi was illegal and also said the park would reopen on Sunday.

‘Despite this, a planned protest went ahead. Sure enough, it turned rough. It was on the Saturday night while we were getting ready to go out – our party were in town to celebrate a Balkans-based friend’s birthday – when the tear gas started to drift its way to the fourth floor.’

He added: ‘A sit down protest on Istikal Cadessi- the pedestrianized street which runs up to Taksim Square – had turned violent. Police and protestors played a cat and mouse game, each gaining and losing ground, goading each other on.

‘Matt Lutton, Seattle-born photojournalist, snapping some of the activity he encountered while out to pick up some food, heard the “pop pop” of a rubber bullet. He was hit, leaving him with a 10 cm diameter wealt and bruising on his stomach.

‘Later, on Istikal, bins were burning, and other detritus had been pulled onto the street in makeshift barricades. Crowds of mainly young protestors, some wearing gasmasks, others with ‘kerchiefs, sprinted away from visible clouds of tear gas. One man gave away face masks from a large cardboard box.

‘Elsewhere, its business as usual. In daytime, the streets are busy, the horns of the city’s yellow taxis parping busily as ever, tourists are hustled around the sites of Sultanahmet, businessmen in tailored shirts hurry along the cleaned-up Istikal Cadessi. Though the Gezi Park development has formally been stalled, this ruling could be overturned, and in practice, much of the surrounding work is already under way, as the roadworks round Taksim Square attest.’






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