Turkish president approves law widening secret service's powers

ISTANBUL Fri Apr 25, 2014 2:02pm EDT

Turkish President Abdullah Gul addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Burton/Pool

Turkish President Abdullah Gul addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 24, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Burton/Pool

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's president approved a law on Friday boosting the powers of the secret service, in a move critics of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan see as a bid to tighten his control in the country in the face of a challenge to his authority.

The law, sent to President Abdullah Gul earlier this week by a parliament dominated by Erdogan's AK Party, gives the secret service more scope for foreign operations and eavesdropping, while offering top agents greater immunity from prosecution.

The secret service is run by Hakan Fidan, one of the closest confidantes of Erdogan, who is locked in a feud with Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally based in the United States whose network of followers wields influence in Turkey's police and judiciary.

Erdogan accuses Gulen's network of orchestrating a plot to unseat him, tapping thousands of phones, including his own, over years and using leaked recordings to unleash corruption allegations against his inner circle in the run-up to a series of elections. Gulen denies involvement.

Secret service chief Fidan was himself the subject of an inquiry in February 2012 seen by the prime minister's circle as a challenge to his authority by a Gulen-influenced judiciary.

Erdogan's response to the corruption inquiry - purging thousands of officers from the police force and reassigning hundreds of prosecutors and judges - has raised concern in Western capitals, including Brussels, which fears the EU-candidate nation is moving further away from European norms.

Gul's approval was announced in a statement on his website.

(Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Daren Butler and Hugh Lawson)

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