Erdogan’s order to the interior minister was disclosed in a closed-door meeting in Ankara with a trade union that was widely reported in local media and confirmed by a union official who attended the meeting; the official spoke on the condition of anonymity. The order suggested a violent denouement to the series of protests that began May 31 as demands to preserve Gezi Park from development but quickly expanded to broader complaints that Erdogan is leading the country toward authoritarianism.
“I gave orders to the interior minister to end the protests within 24 hours,” the NTV network reported Erdogan as saying.
Erdogan also met in Ankara with a group of 11 architects, academics and students to discuss the protests. The meeting in the capital had been billed as a conversation with protesters, but few in Gazi Park said the delegation represented them.
Erdogan told the group that police abuses would not be tolerated and that he may be open to a referendum to determine the fate of Gezi Park, said a spokesman for the prime minister’s Justice and Development Party, Huseyin Celik.
“Let’s ask Istanbul’s citizens how many of them want it, how many of them don’t,” Celik said.
On Wednesday, Turkish President Abdullah Gul struck a more placatory tone about the protesters than Erdogan, telling reporters, “It is our duty to lend them an ear.”
But Erdogan is the undisputed leader of Turkey, and his order to security forces to end protests within hours starts a countdown to a major confrontation across Turkey. Protests have reached even conservative areas that are traditional power bases for Erdogan’s party.
The protests have presented Erdogan with the biggest challenge to his decade in power. On Wednesday, demonstrators dug in at Gezi Park, which adjoins Taksim Square, and vowed to turn out in even greater force in the coming days. Some planted olive trees and flowers in the park to symbolize their resistance. Others, fearful of violence yet to come, focused on stocking medical tents with supplies.
“It’s not sustainable what we’re doing here. We know that,” said Ugur Bayraktar, 36, a biomedical engineer who was holding bright purple swim goggles and a blue bicycle helmet as a makeshift defense against tear gas and projectiles. “But it’s the spirit that’s the important part.”