Arab Today, arab today erdogan brands graft probe ugly antigovernment plot
Last Updated : GMT 19:47:11
Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

Erdogan brands graft probe ugly anti-government plot

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Erdogan brands graft probe ugly anti-government plot

Ankara - AFP

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan charged Wednesday that the detention of dozens of people in a high-profile graft probe was an "ugly" operation against his government. Five police chiefs have been sacked in the wake of the dawn raids on Tuesday which led to the arrest of the sons of three ministers and several top business leaders, sending shockwaves through Turkey's political establishment. The operation has exposed deep fractures in Erdogan's traditional support base, particularly a bitter feud between his government and an influential Muslim cleric who wields considerable clout in the police and the judiciary. Political tensions are running high in Turkey ahead of a a series of elections starting next year that will pose a key test for Erdogan after the anti-government unrest in June. Erdogan branded the graft probe an "ugly operation" against the government. "We will not allow political plotting," he told reporters in Ankara. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said five police chiefs had been dismissed after the raids in Istanbul and Ankara that led to the detention of 51 people. "The judicial process should be concluded swiftly and carefully," Arinc told reporters after a closed-door meeting with Erdogan and several ministers. "We will always respect any decision made by the judiciary and will not engage in any effort to block this process," he added. Those detained are suspected of numerous offenses including accepting and facilitating bribes for development projects and securing construction permits for protected areas in exchange for money, as well as gold smuggling and money laundering, according to press reports. Among the suspects are the sons of Interior Minister Muammer Guler, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar along with the chief executive of state-owned Halkbank Suleyman Aslan and construction tycoon Ali Agaoglu. Police also seized $4.5 million in cash hidden in shoe boxes in Aslan's home, the Dogan News Agency reported, citing judicial sources. "We believe our ministers are innocent," Arinc said, adding however that the government was ready to dismiss them if necessary. "If there are corruption or money laundering allegations, the judiciary must shed light on them." According to press reports, one probe centers on Azerbaijani businessman Reza Zarrab who is suspected of bribery to disguise illegal gold sales to Iran via Halkbank. Arinc branded the police operation a "psychological war" against Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) but he did not specify who was behind the "very planned" campaign. The government has vowed to root out corruption, a chronic problem in Turkey particularly in the booming construction industry. But there is speculation it is linked to a very public dispute between Erdogan's government and a former ally, the influential Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen lives in exile in the United States, but his organization wields considerable influence in several arms of Turkey's state apparatus including the police, secret services and the judiciary and also runs a network of private schools. The Gulen movement was a key AKP supporter, helping it to win three elections in a row since it first took office in 2002. But government plans unveiled last month to close down a network of private schools run by Gulen's Hizmet movement appear to have shattered the alliance. "It would not be wrong to see the latest bribery operation... as a new phase in the Gulen-government battle," political analyst Rusen Cakir commented. But the AKP said it would not bow to any threats. "The AKP takes its strength neither from dark forces, nor from the other side of the ocean, nor from dirty alliances," AKP deputy leader Salih Kapusuz was quoted as saying by the Milliyet newspaper. Signs of discord between Gulen and Erdogan had emerged in 2012 over the role of Turkey's spy chief Hakan Fiden and relations deteriorated during the mass protests that rocked the country in June. The demonstrations bruised Erdogan's image, highlighting concerns about what critics say is his increasingly authoritarian policies and efforts to impose his conservative Islamic values on society. Although Erdogan remains the most powerful figure in Turkish politics, commentators say the feud with the Gulen movement has the potential to cause splits within his own party. Erdogan and the AKP face key tests in local polls in March, a presidential ballot in August and legislative elections in 2015. Two AKP lawmakers have quit the party in the past few weeks because of their opposition to government policies.

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