Turkish court blocks disputed park project - copy of ruling

Wed Jul 3, 2013 4:52pm BST

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(Reuters) - A Turkish court has ruled against an Istanbul building project that triggered nationwide anti-government demonstrations, a copy of the court decision showed, dealing a blow to a project strongly backed by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Authorities were expected to appeal against the decision to cancel a project to redevelop Istanbul's central Taksim Square, which became the centre of protests and violent clashes with police last month. But the ruling marked a significant victory for a coalition of political forces opposed to it.

The administrative court made its ruling in early June, at the height of the unrest, according to a lawyer for the plaintiffs. It was not clear why it was not released until now.

The Taksim Square project, which would have involved cutting down trees and erasing nearby Gezi Park, became for opponents of Erdogan symbolic of what they regarded as an increasingly high-handed form of government. Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse crowds there and at demonstrations in other cities.

Erdogan said on June 14 that his government would wait for the judiciary to rule, including the appeals process, before proceeding with the Taksim development seen as one of his pet projects among many grand schemes for Istanbul.

Gezi Park, one of central Istanbul's few green spaces, became a makeshift campsite occupied by thousands of people to stop the park's demolition.

Anger mushroomed into mass demonstrations against Erdogan's rule and Islamist-inspired policies in late May and simmered for much of June in several Turkish cities. Four people were killed and some 7,500 wounded in the police crackdown, the Turkish Medical Association has said.

Erdogan was first elected in 2002 at the head of a party embracing centre-right activists, reformers and nationalists as well as orthodox religious elements.

Critics argue that the prime minister has moved more towards his Islamist roots in recent years, while Erdogan himself has branded the protesters terrorists and vandals defying a democratically elected government.

(Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley, editing by Ralph Boulton)

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