Turkish police purge reaches top ranks amid graft scandal

ANKARA Wed Jan 8, 2014 10:11am EST

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, wearing a dust-free garment, delivers a speech during a ceremony to mark the shipment of the Turksat-4A satellite at Mitsubishi Electric Corp's Kamakura Works, the satellite production facility, in Kamakura, south of Tokyo January 8, 2014. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, wearing a dust-free garment, delivers a speech during a ceremony to mark the shipment of the Turksat-4A satellite at Mitsubishi Electric Corp's Kamakura Works, the satellite production facility, in Kamakura, south of Tokyo January 8, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Issei Kato

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ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's deputy police chief has been sacked, the most senior commander yet targeted in a purge of a force heavily influenced by a cleric Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accuses of plotting to seize the levers of state power.

Erdogan's AK Party meanwhile sent plans to parliament to allow government more say over the appointment of prosecutors and judges. Erdogan argues that a judiciary and police in the sway of the Hizmet (Service) movement of cleric Fethullah Gulen contrived a graft investigation now shaking his administration.

The police website said the deputy head of the national police, Muammer Bucak, and provincial chiefs, among them the commanders in the capital Ankara and the Aegean province of Izmir, were removed from their posts overnight.

The government has purged hundreds of police since the graft scandal erupted on December 17 with the detention of dozens of people including businessmen close to the government and three cabinet ministers' sons. Among the dozens questioned, most have been released. A remaining 24, including two of the ministers' sons, remain in custody, according to local media.

The scandal has shaken investor confidence in Turkey before elections this year and heightened concern about the erosion of judicial independence, something which in the longer term could damage its bid for membership of the European Union.

"We urge Turkey, as a candidate country committed to the political criteria of accession...to take all the necessary measures to ensure that allegations of wrongdoing are addressed without discrimination," a spokesman for the European Commission said when asked in Brussels about the affair.

Details of the corruption allegations have not been made public, but are believed to relate to construction and real estate projects and Turkey's gold trade with Iran, according to Turkish newspaper reports citing prosecutors' documents.

The affair, exposing a deep rift within the Turkish political establishment, has hit market confidence, driving the lira to new lows. Ratings agency Fitch warned that "strains on institutional integrity" were among the factors which could weaken Turkey's creditworthiness.

Moody's, which raised Turkey to investment grade last May, said domestic political risk was already factored into its rating, suggesting it plans no imminent change.

Continued uncertainty or even instability could present hazards for the region, where Ankara has extended its role under Erdogan. Turkey borders Iraq, Iran and Syria and hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

GRIP ON JUDICIARY

Erdogan has cast the graft investigation, which poses arguably the biggest challenge of his 11-year rule, as an attempted "judicial coup" backed by foreign forces. His allies argue the accusations have been fabricated.

Gulen, who lives in the United States, denies involvement in launching the corruption investigation which broke into the public view three months before local elections that will constitute a test of Erdogan's long-standing popularity.

The ruling party bill on the judiciary, published on parliament's website, proposes changes to the structure of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the body responsible for appointments in the judiciary, which Erdogan has criticized since the corruption scandal erupted last month.

It allows the undersecretary of the justice minister to be elected as chairman of the HSYK board, a move which would give the government a tighter grip over the choice of judges.

Erdogan and Hizmet, which exercises influence through a network of contacts built on sponsorship of schools and other social and media organizations, accuse each other of manipulating police and judiciary and threatening stability.

Mustafa Sentop, a deputy chairman of the AKP, said the bill was meant to stop a "parallel structure" - a term Erdogan's supporters use to refer to Hizmet - from wielding influence.

"We aim to ensure the independency and neutrality of the judiciary and to prevent a parallel structure, groups within the HSYK, from achieving political goals through the judiciary," he told Reuters. "This is not an attempt to intervene against an independent judiciary," he said.

But the row is damaging faith in Turkey's institutions.

"All this will act as a drag on investment, growth and development, while weighing against the EU accession drive," said Timothy Ash, head of emerging markets at Standard Bank.

"This has been a gift to Turkey's opponents and critics in Europe."

(Additional reporting by Asli Kandemir and Ece Toksabay in Istanbul, Adrian Croft in Brussels; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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Comments (3)
Ittai wrote:
Something must be done about Erdogan, the mass murdering terrorist. Dear Turkish nation, for your sake and for the sake of the free world: get rid of him already…

Jan 08, 2014 8:31am EST  --  Report as abuse
Ittai wrote:
Something must be done about Erdogan, the mass murdering terrorist. Dear Turkish nation, for your sake and for the sake of the free world: get rid of him already…

Jan 08, 2014 8:31am EST  --  Report as abuse
RobertFrost wrote:
The development of the Islamist movement, since the emergence of Al-Qa’ida and the Taliban, is reached its apex and appears to be is beginning its decline.

It would be utterly wrong to distinguish, as the US administrations tried, between “moderates” and “extremists.” This was clearly demonstrated by prime minister Erdoghan since he unleashed the police and security against his own people, and continued to kill Kurds and oppress Alawites, who, with other minorities, make up more than 30% of the population of Turkey.

But this was demonstrated earlier by the “previously-moderate” Taliban, who assumed power in Afghanistan, with US remarkable indifference, after the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

The routing of the Islamists in Egypt was probably a turning point, culminating year of chaos in that country, and mediocre governance, coupled with rapid erosion of constitutional, legal, legislative and political standards, weak as they may have been.

It is fair to say that the incapacity and incompetence of the Islamists in paying any attention to the central problem of the Egyptian people, food, hastened their downfall, a problem that brought down the previous president, Mubarak.

In Turkey, one is witnessing the same process, hidden earlier by an economic upsurge gained by hiving of principal public assets and creating a false sense of prosperity, which lasted as long as they were assets to give away to friends and family, as we now learn from the major corruption scandals.

There are no reasons to presume that the economic conditions in Turkey would take an upswing, with the Turkish Lira hitting record lows against the dollars with every sun rise, and joblessness, particularly among the young is climbing to “Egyptian heights”.

This is coupled by the failure of the “Master Plan.” Re-inventing Turkey as an alternative conduit for oil and gas to Europe, with the help of the Qatar shaikhs. Syria loomed large in their calculations, through which gas pipelines would pass to knock off the Russian monopoly of gas delivery to Europe, and the progress of the trans-Asian deliveries from Central Asia bedeviled by growing differences with the oil producing countries there.

Turkey imports almost all of its energy needs. It is a serious economic weakness which is compounded politically by an almost infantile idea that by stealing oil from Iraqi Kurdistan, according to an agreement they signed with the equally corrupt administration there, would produce a continuous and stable flow – at the time when Mr. Erdoghan is bombarding other Kurds with his US F16s.

This will not relieve the world from Islamist terrorists. The events in Egypt demonstrates their willingness to turn to car bombs and suicide “missions.” In that they have as a source of funds and support the Saudi family, which has been for decades the main source of extreme Islamist ideology from Bin Ladin to today’s “stars” in the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” and “Nusrah Front” fighting in Syria.

The same terrorist acts are likely to be the fate of Turkey whence the Erdoghan government falls, probably in two months when the Turkish General Election is held.

Of course, with his “new” police chiefs, his control of the judiciary and his loyal army commanders, the elections may not be a peaceful journey in a lazy afternoon to the neighborhood polling station. But it will not remove the popular, ethnic and religious opposition to the Erdoghan regime, no more than it did in Egypt. The central problem, the economy, remains and with heightened insecurity it will only be compounded.

The position of the US, which is all but accused by Mr. Erdoghan of being a party to the “international conspiracy” which exposed the corruption and malfeasance of his cronies, is still withheld. The government of Turkey now joins Saudi Arabia and the Sheikhdoms of the Gulf as corrupt, despotic and tyrannical, but a “loyal ally.”

…And the world still be treated to the Western choruses championing the cause of “freedom and “democracy” in Syria, Iran and even Russia, while “honoring” the Saudi family, as the French president just did, in his visit to Saudi Arabia only a week or so ago.

Jan 08, 2014 1:42pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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