06/14/2013 03:22 EDT | Updated 08/13/2013 05:12 EDT

Turkish protests enter crucial stage after government promises halt to square construction

ANKARA, Turkey - Activists leading a sit-in in a coveted Istanbul park on Friday were considering a promise made by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in talks with activists overnight to let courts — and a potential referendum — decide about a park redevelopment project that has sparked Turkey's biggest protests in decades.

In last-ditch negotiations after Erdogan issued a "final warning" to protesters, his government said it would suspend a controversial development plan for Istanbul's Gezi Park until the courts could rule on its legality. If the courts rule in government's favour, than a referendum would be held in Istanbul on the development plan.

If those protesting in Istanbul's Gezi park accept the offer, this could bring to a peaceful end to weeks long protests, which at times devolved into violent clashes with riot police — scenes that have dented the image of Erdogan's government on the world stage.

An attempt to clear out the park on May 31 sparked demonstrations that morphed into broader protests against what many say is the prime minister's increasingly authoritarian style of government. Five people — four demonstrators and a police officer —were killed in the protests that spread to dozens of other cities.

The Taksim Solidarity group, two of whose members were in the meeting with Erdogan, has emerged as the most high-profile from the occupation that began last month. But it does not speak for all of those camping in the park. Many say they have no affiliation to any group or party.

Suspicion within the park about Erdogan's tactics and motives remained widespread — and they are firmly entrenched: In recent days, the festive atmosphere has been marked by nightly piano concerts.

"The prime minister calls the people he pleases to the meetings and says some stuff," said demonstrator Murat Tan. "We don't care about them much. Today, we saved the trees here but our main goal is to save the people."

Erdogan has pledges to bring an end to the protest and has called his supporters for rallies in Ankara and Istanbul this weekend.