Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended his government from allegations of corruption and said he would fight back against a “gang” within his own state bureaucracy.
Taking his message public seven times in the past two days, Erdogan, 59, has lashed out at what he said was a campaign to destabilize the country in order to benefit financial speculators. The nation’s stock, currency and bond markets fell last week on concern the scandal is widening.
“A new attack has been launched against our government, democracy and the will of the nation,” Erdogan told thousands of supporters yesterday in the town of Turgutlu. “There are circles who are trying to set up a parallel state.”
Anger over the scandal sparked protests for a second day yesterday in several areas, including the Aegean city of Izmir, where police used tear gas and water cannons to prevent demonstrators from reaching a local branch of Erdogan’s party, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.
The protests were reminiscent of anti-government demonstrations that roiled the country in June. Police detained 70 people in Istanbul on Dec. 27, Anatolia reported.
Erdogan said the investigation, which has split the judiciary and pitted bureaucrats against one another, is an attempt to derail the government.
“They’ve dubbed this the biggest corruption scandal of the century,” Erdogan said. “You can’t stain anyone without evidence, you can’t declare them as corrupt from the start.”
On Dec. 27, as he returned to Istanbul, Erdogan was greeted by supporters at the airport. They chanted “traitor Bayraktar,” in reference to former Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar, who last week urged Erdogan to step down.
Erdogan is increasing his appearances after a top judicial body blocked his order requiring the government to be notified of investigations, deepening a standoff that sent markets tumbling. That ruling was unconstitutional, Erdogan said. Opposition lawmakers countered that the prime minister was undermining the charter.
“The government isn’t going after thieves,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the main oppositionRepublican People’s Party, said yesterday in the Black Sea port city of Samsun. “It’s chasing prosecutors and judges, and telling them to not catch the thieves.”
He called Erdogan “the prime minister of the corrupt,” and his party urged President Abdullah Gulto probe the allegations.
Turkey’s economy, the largest in the Middle East, has more than tripled in size in nominal terms during Erdogan’s 10 years in office. The majority Muslim country, the region’s only member in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, shares borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran.
The lira weakened as much as 2.3 percent to 2.1764 against the dollar on Dec. 27, before trading at 2.1549 in Istanbul. The Borsa Istanbul 100 Index (XU100) fell 1 percent at the close to 63,885.22, the lowest since August 2012. Two-year bond yields climbed above 10 percent for the first time since August.
Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek said on his Twitter account that the economy will be quick to recover from what he called a soft-coup attempt. “We’ll disappoint doomsday sayers again,” Simsek said.
He said the weakening currency will lead to a “significant adjustment” of the current account deficit, though have a limited effect on inflation. Any economic slowdown is “likely to be temporary,” Simsek said.
The corruption investigation has become the battleground in a struggle between the government and followers of a U.S.-based imam, Fethullah Gulen, who is blamed by Erdogan’s supporters for instigating the crackdown. The cleric broke with Erdogan recently, ending a partnership that has helped sustain the single-party government since 2002.
Erdogan yesterday chided the prosecutor, Muammer Akkas, who was stripped of the graft investigation. “Are you a prosecutor or a member of an organization?” Erdogan said.
Fallout spread during the past week, with former Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay quitting Erdogan’s ruling party, along with two others.
“Security forces can’t collaborate with the government,” Gunay told reporters in Ankara. “I’m warning civil servants who are following unlawful orders not to carry them out — you will be held accountable tomorrow for today’s violation of the rule of law.”
Turkish police have been caught in the struggle between Erdogan and Gulen. About 500 police chiefs were dismissed from their posts and reassigned after the sons of three ministers were among dozens detained. All three ministers were replaced by Erdogan last week.
Turkey’s military, which as recently as 1997 pressured the country’s first Islamist prime minister to step down, has steered clear of the fray.
“The Turkish Armed Forces in no way wants to be involved in political debates,” the military said in a statement.
The army, however, is asking for a retrial of hundreds of its members who were jailed in coup-plot cases, Milliyet newspaper said yesterday, citing what it said were remarks by General Necdet Ozel, chief of the military, during a closed-door National Security Council meeting Dec. 26.
Telephone calls by Bloomberg News to the military’s press office weren’t answered.
European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said in a statement that he was concerned by “the removal of a large number of police officers from their duties” and urged Turkey to “take all the necessary measures to ensure that allegations of wrongdoing are addressed.”
Turkey’s new EU Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quick to respond. The EU shouldn’t reach “prejudiced conclusions while interpreting domestic political developments in Turkey,” he said.