ANKARA: Turkey's parliament banned a union from approving construction projects, with opposition parties saying Wednesday the group of architects and city planners was being punished by the government for challenging redevelopment plans in Istanbul that ignited nationwide protests last month.
The surprise measure was passed late Tuesday with the votes of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party, which holds a parliamentary majority.
The move, which requires the president's approval before taking effect, would hand over the powers of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects to the ministry in charge of the environment and urban planning. It also deprives the union of a major source of revenue.
Ali Uzunirmak, a member of Turkey's nationalist party, called the measure "pirate" legislation that avoided discussions in parliamentary committees since it was debated in a midnight session.
The government defended the measure saying it would benefit architects and engineers who are not members of the union.
Union members had opposed construction plans for Istanbul's Taksim Square, including the demolition of Gezi Park, one of a few remaining green spaces in the area.
A police crackdown on a sit-in to protect the park ignited nationwide protests in June that turned into expression of discontent with what opponents say is Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian style of governing. The death toll in the protests, meanwhile, increased to five Wednesday when a demonstrator who was in a coma died.
"With this proposal, the government is making the (Union) pay for Gezi," Milliyet newspaper quoted pro-secular opposition legislator Akif Hamzacebi as saying while speaking out against the measure in Parliament. "This is an extension of the government's witch hunt."
On Monday, seven activists opposed to the redevelopment plans - all members of the Union - were detained as they tried to reach Gezi for a rally they had organized. Their homes were searched Tuesday, according to media reports. The European Union's expressed concern over the detentions and called on Turkey to respect "fundamental freedoms."
Erdogan, who rejects charges of authoritarianism, has blamed the protests on a conspiracy against his government, which received 50 percent of votes in 2011 elections.