File photo of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Photo: Reuters)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday that a controversial redevelopment of an Istanbul park that sparked major anti-government protests in 2013 would go ahead, despite opposition from secular Turks.
"A project that we need to address in a courageous manner is (that of) Gezi park in Taksim. We will build this historic structure," he said in a speech in Istanbul.
Erdogan was referring to hotly contested plans to rebuild an Ottoman-era barracks on the land occupied by Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces in central Istanbul, next to Taksim Square.
The redevelopment, which included plans for a mosque, triggered mass protests in May-June 2013 that snowballed into a wave of public anger against the Islamic-rooted government of then premier Erdogan.
Eight people were killed and thousands injured in the protests which were brutally suppressed by the police. All demonstrations in Taksim Square, a traditional rallying point for Istanbul residents, have since been banned.
Erdogan presented the project in the heart of the European side of Turkey's biggest city as key to preserving the country's heritage.
"If we want to preserve our history we must rebuild this historic structure, we will rebuild it," he said.
In the wake of the 2013 unrest Turkey's top administrative court blocked the redevelopment but last year it reversed its decision, following an appeal by the municipality of Istanbul.