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A park and its 600 trees behind Istanbul protests

TURKEY: Violent anti-government protests that have engulfed Istanbul were triggered by plans to redevelop iconic Taksim Square in the heart of the city, a project that will involve razing some 600 trees in an adjoining park.

The plan includes building a replica of military barracks from the Ottoman Empire to house a cultural centre, but residents fear the area will in fact become a shopping district.

The Istanbul municipality, controlled by the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) that has ruled Turkey since 2002, embarked on the ambitious project in November. The plan aims to create a pedestrian zone around Taksim square, a traditional venue for rallies and protests as well as a popular tourist spot.

Work is under way to divert traffic leading to the busy central square from several directions into a tunnel, which officials say will beautify the tourist zone and keep the exhaust and noise of the city’s traffic congestion underground.

With 15 million inhabitants, Istanbul is plagued with chronic traffic gridlock on the European side of the city.

But critics say the giant scheme, touted as also giving historic Taksim a facelift, will turn the square into yet another soulless, concrete commercial zone.

The project has drawn criticism from architects, urban planners and ecologists, who see it as another example of anarchic urbanisation conceived for real estate developers with no consideration for the environment.

AFP

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