ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party moved on Wednesday to curb the power of an architects’ group involved in weeks of fierce anti-government protests, prompting opposition charges that he is waging a vendetta against protesters.
Under a government-sponsored bill, the Chamber of Turkish Architects and Engineers (TMMOB), which represents some 400,000 professionals, will lose its ability to grant final approval to urban planning projects, a source of revenue for the group.
Architects in the TMMOB had brought a lawsuit against plans to redevelop Istanbul’s Gezi Park, the issue which prompted the first protests against Erdogan - viewed by his critics as increasingly authoritarian - that snowballed into nationwide actions.
A court has since canceled the redevelopment project but the authorities can appeal against the ruling.
Opposition lawmakers criticized the new bill as politically motivated, noting the TMMOB’s support for Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella group of activists and non-governmental organizations.
“The government is trying to make the TMMOB... pay for all of those events which affected Turkey,” Akif Hamzacebi, a senior lawmaker in the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told parliament in Ankara.
The Environment Ministry played down the importance of the changes and denied any political motive.
“(The bill)... should not be associated with the Gezi Park events of the past month,” the ministry said in a statement.
Police detained dozens of TMMOB members during a protest in central Istanbul on Monday evening. The TMMOB said on Wednesday four of its members were still in police custody.
Police also searched the houses of several Taksim Solidarity members after Monday’s protest, Turkish media reported.
The death toll from the weeks-long protests against Erdogan’s government rose to five on Wednesday after a person injured in a demonstration in the western city of Eskisehir on June 2 died in hospital.
Thousands of people were injured in the heavy-handed police crackdown on the protests across Turkey which posed the biggest challenge to Erdogan’s decade-long rule.
The number of protests has dwindled in July, though on Monday police used teargas and water cannon to disperse crowds trying to get into Gezi Park when it reopened after being sealed off for three weeks following the earlier violence.
Erdogan and his conservative AK Party have faced criticism for their handling of the riots from NATO ally the United States and from the European Union, which Turkey wants to join.
Additional reporting by Evrim Ergin, Editing by Gareth Jones