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Mayor Topbaş: Istanbul to consult residents on all projects

Mr. Kadir Topbaş, the mayor of Istanbul has said that the municipality will consult residents on even small projects from now on, in a bid to alleviate tensions after the city saw weeks of protest over a plan to redevelop a central İstanbul park.

6/20/2013 12:00:00 AM

Mr. Topbaş told reporters on Thursday that there might have been some “miscommunication” between protesters and authorities over construction plans for Gezi Park near Istanbul's famed Taksim Square. He blamed unnamed actors for escalating rallies that left five dead and caused more than $80 million in damages.

Mr. Topbaş said the municipality had endorsed a new decision to consult with residents on every project in İstanbul. “Even if we decide to change the location of a bus station, we will consult this with the people living in the area,” Topbaş said. He added that officials would also do more to inform citizens about planned projects. 

He said the damage the protests caused in Istanbul has been estimated at TL 61 million, adding that the municipality is now planning to plant 129 more trees in Gezi Park, the flashpoint and origin of the protests.

“99 İETT (Istanbul Transportation Authority) buses, 19 public buses and 15 fire brigade vehicles were damaged. Civilian vehicles and pavement were damaged. The cost of all this is around TL 60 million for the municipality. All these things can be compensated,” he said.

Mr. Topbaş also criticized the burning of several tents in Gezi Park in the course of the protests and said four municipal police officers had been suspended and three employees working for a subcontractor fired over the incident.

Police who used excessive force against protesters, he continued, will be punished -- something Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has promised – and authorities will be able to identify offenders by examining security footage.

When asked whether protesters whose tents were burned would be compensated, Topbaş said the victims had a right to file claims but that he wouldn't comment on the issue as it was a judiciary matter.

On government plans to construct a replica of the Ottoman-era Topçu Barracks in Gezi Park -- the trigger of the protests -- the mayor said everyone would have to wait for the resolution of six cases that have been filed against the project.

“If a court decision comes out in favor of the construction of the barracks, then we need to ask the people. If people approve of the project, it will be implemented; if not, it will not be implemented. Our prime minister granted authority over this issue to the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality,” Mr. Topbaş said.

Last week, the government proposed holding referendum on the development plan for Gezi Park.

After a Wednesday meeting between Erdoğan and representatives of activist organizations, AK Party Deputy Chairman Mr. Hüseyin Çelik said after that a referendum could be held on the proposed development in Gezi Park.

In the meantime, Mr. Topbaş, who has been serving as Istanbul's mayor for two terms, announced that he is planning to run for a third term but needs to consult with the prime minister and his party.

“I have made a decision to run for my third term. I've announced this. My decision is not sufficient, as our prime minister and the party administration need to give me permission. In doing this, there is need for the support of Istanbulites. If there is an overall agreement, my candidacy continues,” he said.

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