* Erdogan says inquiry part of a "dirty operation"
* Draws parallel with summer protests
* Dozens of senior police officers reassigned
* Prosecutors say investigations will go on
(Recasts with Erdogan comments)
By Gulsen Solaker and Humeyra Pamuk
ANKARA, Dec 18 Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip
Erdogan on Wednesday denounced a corruption crackdown on his
allies months ahead of elections as a "dirty operation" to smear
his administration and undermine the country's progress.
He said those behind the investigation were trying to form a
"state within a state", an apparent reference to the movement of
U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers are
influential in Turkey's police and judiciary.
A total of 52 people, including three ministers' sons,
prominent businessmen close to Erdogan and local government
officials, were detained on Tuesday in the country's biggest
corruption probe since Erdogan swept to power in 2002.
"As we fight to make Turkey in the top 10 countries of the
world ... some are engaged in an effort to halt our fast growth.
There are those abroad ... and there are extensions of them
within our country," Erdogan told a news conference.
"Right now a very dirty operation is going on."
Several dozen senior police officers, including the heads of
the financial crime, organised crime and smuggling units in
Istanbul and at least 18 others in Ankara, were removed from
their posts following the detentions, local media said.
Edrogan said officers had been removed for abuse of office
and warned more could follow in other cities.
Tensions have grown in recent months between Erdogan's
government and Gulen's Hizmet (Service) movement over plans to
close private schools which prepare teens for competitive high
school and university entrance exams, some run by Hizmet.
The schools, part of a global education network, are an
important source of revenue and influence for Gulen's movement,
creating a web of contacts and personal loyalties among a
religious-minded elite in Turkey and abroad.
A lawyer for Gulen denied he had any hand in the probe.
"The honorable Gulen has nothing to do with and has no
information about the investigations or the public officials
running them," Orhan Erdemli said in a statement published by
Turkish media outlets.
Erdogan drew parallels with weeks of violent anti-government
protests over the summer, which grew out of a demonstration
against plans to redevelop Istanbul's Gezi Park. Riot police
clashed night after night with demonstrators protesting against
what they said was Erdogan's growing authoritarianism.
"There is a process that started with the Gezi incidents.
They could not get what they wanted there and now they have
taken a new step," Erdogan said.
Representatives of Hizmet have always denied being behind
June's protests but tacitly chided Erdogan, who dismissed the
protesters as "riff-raff", throwing their weight instead behind
more conciliatory voices in his AK Party.
HEART OF RULING PARTY
Erdogan and Gulen both draw support from religiously minded,
conservative Turks in the mostly Muslim country of 75 million
people, but there have long been ideological differences which
have bubbled increasingly to the surface.
Many of Gulen's followers see him as a more progressive and
pro-Western influence than Erdogan, whose opinions on issues
from abortion to alcohol consumption, and the concentration of
power around him they view with increasing alarm.
Gulen could not challenge Erdogan at the polls and has shown
no intention of forming a party, but their battle for influence
could shape the Turkish political landscape for years to come.
"This does mark a battle for the heart and mind of the
party, and for the likely policy orientation," said Timothy Ash,
head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank.
The Hizmet movement has helped Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK
Party win a growing share of the vote in three successive
elections over the past decade, but the rift between the two
sides risks fracturing their common support base.
Gulen runs the network of schools and other social
facilities across the Middle East, Asia and Africa from a
compound in the United States. He moved to the United States in
1999 after being charged with attempting to undermine the
He was later acquitted but has remained in Pennsylvania, an
enigmatic figure who gives little hint of his intentions in
Turkish politics, viewed with suspicion by secularists who see
him seeking to infiltrate state and cultural institutions.
BATTLE LINES DRAWN
The Istanbul prosecutor's office, which has been leading the
corruption investigations, has showed no sign of backing down.
In its first official comment since Tuesday's detentions, it
said it was conducting three separate inquiries, two of which
dated back to September 2012, and that two additional
prosecutors had been appointed to assist.
In a brief statement about the removal of senior officers,
the police said some staff had been reassigned, in some cases
due to alleged misconduct and others "out of administrative
necessity", but gave no further details.
The corruption investigation dominated newspaper headlines.
Pro-government papers accused Gulen's followers of running a
smear campaign against the AK Party before municapal elections
in March and a presidential race a few months later in which
Erdogan is expected to run.
"The black propaganda escalates," the daily Star newspaper
said on its front page. "Somebody has pushed the button on the
eve of the municipality elections."
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc also said the corruption
probe was part of an effort to tarnish the government but played
down any suggestion he meant Gulen's followers were behind it.
"It is incorrect to associate a meaning to my comments that
would create a confrontation with the community," Arinc told a
news conference, referring to Gulen's movement, whose adherents
say they number in the millions.
(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay and Ayla Jean Yackley in
Istanbul; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Alison