Istanbul protest park won't become shopping mall: Mayor

ISTANBUL (AFP) - A small Istanbul park whose conservation fight sparked mass protests will not be turned into a shopping mall, the city's mayor assured protesters on Friday, but insisted the site's controversial redevelopment would go ahead.

"We are definitely not thinking of building a shopping mall there, no hotel or residence either. It can be... a city museum or an exhibition centre," Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas told reporters.

Activists have been trying to halt plans to demolish the park to make way for a replica of Ottoman-era military barracks and, some protesters feared, a shopping centre.

A campaign to protect Gezi Park's 600 trees, the last patch of green in the heart of the Turkey's largest city, was met with a violent police crackdown last week, triggering anti-government demos across the country that have left thousands injured by police using tear gas and water cannon.

The unrest has also claimed three lives.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has responded with defiance, vowing to press on with the barracks project but leaving open whether the area would become a shopping district.

In a more conciliatory tone, Mr Topbas said the final plans would be made "through dialogue" and "the number of trees can be increased".

But he stood firm on the overall project: "The plan for the barracks was part of our election promises, the people gave us the authority to do it."

The park, next to Istanbul's main Taksim Square, has become the symbolic heart of the nationwide protest movement and has transformed into a festival-like camp site packed with mostly young demonstrators.

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