Istanbul municipality says will challenge Gezi Park transfer

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Erdogan announces economic reforms in Istanbul

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey has transferred ownership of Istanbul's Gezi Park, the focus of anti-government protests in 2013, to national from municipal ownership, drawing criticism from the opposition-run city which said it would challenge the decision.

The directorate for religious foundations, part of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, said the area was being transferred to one of its foundations.

Istanbul Municipality criticised what it said was a hasty decision by President Tayyip Erdogan's government which was taken "to stop a project to turn the square into a green an aesthetic area again".

It plans to launch a legal process against the decision, it said in a statement on Saturday.

Eight years ago, hundreds of thousands of people marched in Istanbul and across Turkey against plans to redevelop the central Istanbul park, posing a serious challenge to then-prime minister Erdogan.

Plans approved by Erdogan to build a replica Ottoman barracks in the central city square were abandoned after months of demonstrations. However in 2016, Erdogan said he remained determined to "reclaim our history" by building there.

Erdogan's AK Party (AKP) has held power nationally since 2002. The AKP and its Islamist predecessors ran the municipality for 25 years, from when Erdogan was elected mayor in 1994 until 2019.

(Writing by Dominic Evans; editing by Jason Neely)