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Turkey’s ruling party will continue to purge police and judiciary members pursuing corruption charges against government officials and will then seek to prosecute them for attempting a coup, a top party official said.
“My opinion is that they are criminals — the police and the judges and prosecutors,” Osman Can, a member of the central committee of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, said in a Jan. 6 interview in Istanbul. “If you can destroy this organization, you can save democracy.”
The remarks suggest there’s little scope for easing tensions between the government and followers of the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan’s party accuses Gulen supporters in the judiciary and police for pursuing the graft probes in an effort to discredit it before local elections in March.
The government has removed prosecutors and dismissed about 1,800 police officers since news of the 15-month secret investigations broke on Dec. 17, when sons of three cabinet ministers were among dozens detained, according to Hurriyet newspaper. In a new wave of dismissals announced today, the government reassigned Muammer Bucak, a deputy head of the national police force, and recalled chiefs of 15 provinces, including the capital, Ankara, according to a decree in the Official Gazette.
In Brussels, a spokesman for the European Commission expressed concern that developments in Turkey “could weaken investigations in progress and the capacity of the legal system and the police to conduct independent investigations.” As a candidate to join the European Union, Turkey must respect EU entry criteria, including rule of law, and deal with corruption allegations “in a transparent and impartial manner,” Olivier Bailly told a news conference.
The political turmoil has hit markets. Turkey’s currency and bonds have been the world’s biggest decliners since the arrests began, while the benchmark stock index fell 8 percent. Fitch Ratings said yesterday that the turmoil could lead Turkey to lose its investment-grade rating, should it undermine the government’s ability to maintain economic stability.
Gulen’s movement and Erdogan’s party were allies for most of the past decade. They split over issues including Erdogan’s pursuit of a peace accord with Kurdish militants and the government’s decision to close the university exam prep schools that are a source of influence and income for Gulen followers, according to Can, a former official at the Constitutional Court.
‘To the End’
He said the government would only go after Gulen followers who have sought to topple Erdogan’s elected government, and that sympathizers working in state institutions won’t face retribution. Can said the group’s structure and obedience to one leader mean that its more “militant” members aren’t compatible with democratic systems.
“They have their own agenda, which definitely does not fit with civil democracy,” Can said. “After they are removed, the government should prosecute them to the end.”
Prosecutors in the city of Izmir yesterday widened the graft probe by detaining officials at Turkey’s state railways authority. The government retaliated by removing the police officers in charge of the raids, according to Radikal newspaper.
“The rule of law is by far the most notable casualty of the ongoing crisis,” Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London, said in e-mailed comments on Jan. 6. “It is unclear whether the government is committed to this principle, and it is equally questionable whether the judiciary and the police can actually deliver justice.”
Can said that while some of the corruption charges may be true, the way in which the probes were carried out made them part of a coup attempt.
Among those arrested are a son of the interior minister, who was found with several safes at his house filled with cash, and the chief executive officer of a state-run bank, who had $4.5 million stuffed into shoeboxes, which he said had been donated to build Islamic schools.
Erdogan says the detentions aim to block Turkey’s economic progress by targeting businessmen involved in major infrastructure projects.
“In all democracies, there is corruption,” Can said. “But if you don’t have a democratic system, those with bureaucratic power can destroy the political will, destroy political parties, for instance, by using corruption as a manipulative tool. They are very dangerous.”
Flaws in Turkey’s democracy stem from a system inherited by Erdogan’s party in 2002 and a constitution written under military rule in the 1980s, Can said. The government has been unable to redraft the charter due to opposition from parties with vested interests in the status quo, he said.
Gulen supporters dominate “all the control points” of Turkey’s judiciary, even though they account for about only 15 percent of its personnel, Can said. He said the government is “discussing every possible option” to remove that influence.
Late yesterday, the ruling party submitted a proposal to parliament to cut powers of the board that elects judges and prosecutors, which last month criticized the government for damaging the independence of the judiciary. The proposal empowers the justice ministry to appoint most judges.
The party also may consider changing its self-imposed three-term limit for members of parliament, after which they are required to step down from office, Can said. That rule applies to much of the party’s leadership, including Erdogan, whose third term comes to an end next year.
“You have rules, but if you have exceptional situations, you can make exceptions,” Can said. If the crisis persists “they could make an exception, and I would support this exception. This crisis can’t continue.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com
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.
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