Turkish gov't open to referendum to end protests

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ISTANBUL -- Turkey's government yesterday offered a first concrete gesture aimed at ending nearly two weeks of street protests, proposing a referendum on a development project in Istanbul that triggered demonstrations that have become the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's 10-year tenure.

Despite the offer, protesters continued to converge on Istanbul's Taksim Square, the epicenter of repeated clashes between riot police firing tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets, and stone-throwing youths -- an early sign that the proposal hadn't defused the demonstrators' concerns.

Word of such a referendum came after Erdogan hosted talks with a small group of activists. Many civil society groups behind the protests boycotted those talks in the capital.

The discussion was the first sign that Erdogan was looking for an exit from the showdown, and came hours after some European leaders expressed concern about strong-arm Turkish police tactics and hopes that the prime minister would soften his stance.

The protests erupted May 31 after a violent police crackdown on a peaceful sit-in by activists objecting to a development project replacing Gezi Park with a replica Ottoman-era barracks. They then spread to dozens of cities, and have attracted tens of thousands of people each night.

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Turkey's Human Rights Foundation said 620 people, including a 1-year-old baby, were injured during the police crackdown early yesterday.

Also Wednesday, the protests took a new flavor as thousands of black-robed lawyers stormed out of their courthouses to deride allegedly rough treatment of their colleagues detained by police a day earlier.

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