independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Erdogan rift with cleric widens

Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stepped up his accusations against a US-based Muslim cleric.

Turkey's embattled prime minister yesterday ratcheted up the rhetoric against a US-based Muslim cleric seen as a threat to his government.

For the first time, Recep Tayyip Erdogan directly suggested followers of Pennsylvania-based spiritual leader Fethullah Gulen have infiltrated the police and judiciary and are pushing a corruption probe against his allies.

Analysts pointed to growing evidence of an uneasy alliance between Mr Erdogan's Islam-based government and the secular military, which for years regarded him with suspicion.

The scandal is revealing the deep cracks among Turkey's elite, spilling out into the public the power struggles that have until now mostly remained hidden.

Turks are watching with disbelief as two major Islamic groups go after each other so transparently.

Mr Erdogan has frequently pointed to outside forces as trying to destabilise the country - most recently during massive summer anti-government protests - but he has broadened his claims in the latest crisis to include domestic foes working as "pawns".

Many believe the probe was orchestrated by followers of Mr Gulen, a moderate preacher whose network of Muslim believers command a global empire of business, media and education interests.

Until recently, he was a government backer - but the power feud between Mr Erdogan and Mr Gulen has become increasingly public.

In recent weeks, Mr Gulen has prayed that "God bring fire to their houses," and Mr Erdogan responded with a promise to "go into their caves" and "expose them". Neither side has named each other directly, but they have left no doubt as to the target of their words.

Mr Erdogan yesterday suggested the movement's followers had infiltrated the police and the judiciary.

"There is a serious smear campaign and there is an organisation, a gang that has established itself within the state," he said.

"There are judicial officials who are... smearing innocent people. They are within the police too."

His political adviser Yalcin Akdogan suggested in a regular column in the pro-government Star newspaper this week that the Gulen movement had "framed" hundreds of military officers who were convicted last year of plotting to bring down the government.

The officers had long claimed that much of the evidence against them was fabricated. Yesterday, two Turkish newspapers - Cumhuriyet and Milliyet - reported that Turkey's military chief requested the government's help for a review of the case against the jailed officers and a retrial.

Turkey's military has staged three military coups since the 1960s but has seen its powers curbed under Mr Erdogan's decade in power. The trial of the military officers helped end its hold on politics.

The military says it will not be dragged into politics amid the scandal. But analysts say it distrusts Mr Gulen's movement and may see Mr Erdogan's government as the better option.

Mr Erdogan was forced to reshuffle his cabinet and dismiss ministers implicated in the corruption case, which allegedly involves illicit money transfers to Iran and bribery for construction projects. Two former ministers' sons have been arrested on bribery charges.

The Turkish currency has plummeted against the dollar and the euro over the turmoil.

European officials urged Turkey to handle the case openly, amid concerns that Mr Erdogan's government was trying to stifle the investigation.

Mr Erdogan has removed police officers from posts, sparking claims that his government was impeding the investigation. He also changed police regulations to ensure that corruption probes are funnelled through senior police and judiciary close to the government, but a Turkish high court overturned that move.

"I urge Turkey ... to take all the necessary measures to ensure that allegations of wrongdoing are addressed without discrimination or preference in a transparent and impartial manner," EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele said.

The EU recently resumed membership negotiations with Turkey that began in 2005 but have been stalled for more than three years.

Also yesterday, an estimated 4,000 people gathered in central Ankara for a protest organised by a civil servants' union, calling on the government to step down over the scandal and chanting: "May the thieves' hands be broken!"

On Friday, riot police used water cannons, tear gas and plastic bullets to push back hundreds of protesters trying to reach Istanbul's main square. Police also broke up a similar demonstration in Ankara.

AP

Press Association

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