Turkish court arrests 11 more police in wiretap probe: lawyer

ISTANBUL Tue Jul 29, 2014 5:52pm EDT

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish court ordered that 11 more police officers be kept in custody pending trial over accusations that they used wiretaps to spy on Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his inner circle, a defense lawyer said on Wednesday.

The latest arrests step up a battle between Erdogan and U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen, a former ally, whose followers have taken key posts in the police and judiciary during Erdogan's 11 years in power.

"Eleven people were remanded in custody," lawyer Omer Turanli wrote on Twitter shortly after the court announced its ruling around midnight (5.00 p.m. EDT), adding that a former head of the Istanbul anti-terror squad was among those kept in custody.

The court ruling brought to 31 the number of officers remanded in custody out of a total 115 police who were detained in overnight raids last week. All the other detained officers have been released but may still face charges.

An alliance between the government and the Gulen movement began to crumble in recent years and the rupture between them became clear in December when corruption investigations targeting Erdogan and his inner circle became public.

Many of the officers detained last week were involved in those corruption probes and see the current case as politically motivated.

Among the most prominent of the officers kept in custody was Fuat Ali Yilmazer, who oversaw intelligence for Istanbul police and is accused of forming and leading a criminal gang. Others are accused of illegal wiretapping, forging documents and espionage.

Erdogan, who is running for president in an Aug. 10 election, had promised a "witch hunt" against the "parallel state," the name he gave Gulen's followers in the bureaucracy.

The arrests follow a stream of purges targeting the police, judiciary and other state institutions this year which government critics have condemned as a symptom of Erdogan's tightening grip on power.

The officers were accused of concocting an investigation into an alleged terrorist group linked with Iran as a pretence to tap the phones of Erdogan, ministers and the country's top spy.

That probe, targeting 251 people, was dismissed due to a lack of evidence after a three-year investigation during which 2,280 people were wire-tapped, a prosecutor said last week.

(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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