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Turkish PM changes plans

| Friday, June 7, 2013, 10:09 p.m.

ISTANBUL — Turkey's combative prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Friday abandoned his plan to build a new shopping mall on one of the few green patches in central Istanbul, but he insisted on razing the park nevertheless, a mixed signal that could prolong weeklong protests here and in other cities.

Pulling back from a plan that he had announced two years ago to build a replica of an Ottoman-era army barracks on the site of Gezi Park, Erdogan said the mall “is not possible in the artillery barracks anyway, given the measurements.” He added: “We may build a city museum instead, and a green area that would be far better than the current park.”

The lack of a clear reason for destroying the park may cause Erdogan problems if he tries to evict the protesters, for it isn't clear now what the project is about. Two demonstrators and a policeman have died since police broke up a peaceful protest with tear gas and water cannon, provoking the worst unrest Turkey has seen for years and inciting worldwide criticism of Erdogan.

Erdogan returned in the early hours Friday from a three-day trip to North Africa to address an odd rally by supporters summoned to Istanbul airport at the last minute by his Justice and Development Party. He immediately demanded an end to the protests, which he denounced as “vandalism and utter lawlessness.”

But even though thousands chanted mob-like slogans like “Let us go, let us smash them,” a reference to the protesters occupying Gezi Park, it appeared that Turkey's most powerful politician had lost control over a secondary local issue and, by virtue of his own mishandling, had let it become a test of his power.

As the leader of a nation of 76 million who is trying to negotiate peace with Kurdish rebels, entry into the European Union and help reshape the Middle East as a more democratic place, Erdogan seemed on the defensive over the Gezi Park project.

Before departing Tunisia, he said the destruction of the park would proceed, and he called the new project a “blend of history, culture and nature.”

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