* Government suffers court setback on police inquiries
* PM pledges electoral "war" as graft scandal swirls
* Erdogan says targeted through son in investigation
* Turkish military says judiciary's independence key
By Orhan Coskun and Ece Toksabay
ANKARA/ISTANBUL, Dec 27 Protesters demanding
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan resign over a high-level
corruption scandal clashed with riot police in Istanbul on
Friday, while across the city thousands staged a rival show of
support for the embattled leader.
Around Taksim Square, centre of anti-government
demonstrations last summer, police fired tear gas and used water
cannon against hundreds of protesters chanting "There are
Erdogan faces a crisis unprecedented during his 11 years in
office due to the scandal that has forced three ministers'
resignations and a cabinet reshuffle, as well as destabilising
the Turkish economy whose rapid growth has been a showpiece of
However, Erdogan still enjoys the loyalty of many pious
Muslims and members of Turkey's wealthy elite. While police
tried to prevent anti-Erdogan crowds from forming on Taksim,
cheering supporters of the ruling AK Party welcomed him at
Istanbul airport about 20 km (14 miles) away, waving party and
national flags when he returned from a trip to the provinces.
Police detained dozens of people on Dec. 17, among them the
sons of the interior minister and two other cabinet members,
after a major graft inquiry that was kept secret from commanders
who might have informed the government in advance.
Earlier on Friday, Erdogan suffered a setback in his efforts
to contain the fallout from the scandal when a court blocked a
government attempt to force police to disclose investigations to
The regulation that would have made police officers inform
their superiors about investigations was announced by the
government, angered at having been kept in the dark about the
year-long corruption inquiry.
Financial markets reacted nervously on Friday to the
scandal. The lira currency hit a record low, stocks were at
their weakest in 17 months and the cost of insuring the
country's debt against default jumped to an 18-month high.
The affair turned more personal this week when Turkish media
published what appeared to be a preliminary summons for Bilal
Erdogan, one of the premier's two sons, to testify, although its
authenticity could not immediately be verified.
Denying wrongdoing, the Erdogan government purged about 70
of the police officers involved, including the head of the force
in Istanbul, and issued a new rule on Dec. 21 requiring police
investigators to share their findings with their superiors.
The Council of State, an Ankara court that adjudicates on
administrative issues, blocked implementation of the regulation,
ruling that it "contradicts the principle of the separation of
With speculation rife in his party that he might call early
general elections next year, Erdogan urged supporters to vote in
a March local polls as part of a "war" on what he says is a
foreign-orchestrated plot cloaked as criminal proceedings.
In a speech in Sakarya province, a heartland of his
Islamist-rooted AK party, Erdogan likened ballots to bullets.
"You, with your votes, will foil this evil plot," he told
the cheering crowd. "Are you committed to establishing a new
Turkey? Are you ready for Turkey's new independence war?"
RALLYING THE TROOPS
He was referring to local elections three months away, in
which some disappointed AK faithful might abandon the party.
AK controls two-thirds of parliament and pollsters see a
modest blow to the party's base but say it could spiral if the
scandal gets worse. One AK official, speaking to Reuters on
condition of anonymity, predicted Erdogan could bring forward
the scheduled 2015 general election to arrest such a slide.
In another dent to the party's prestige, three of its
lawmakers stepped down on Friday. One of them, Ertugrul Gunay,
complained of a "domineering and arrogant attitude" in AK.
Among Erdogan's past feats was pruning the power of the
military, once the country's dominant authority and guardian of
its secularist constitution, by championing the prosecution of
scores of senior officers on putsch and terrorism allegations.
In an implied rebuke to Erdogan, the military said on Friday
it had respected the judiciary's independence at the time. "The
legal proceedings regarding Turkish armed forces personnel were
observed in accordance with the duties and responsibilities laid
out in the law," the chief of staff said.
On Thursday, a Turkish prosecutor, Muammer Akkas, said he
had been removed from the corruption case and accused police of
obstructing it by failing to execute his arrest warrants.
Turkey's chief prosecutor responded that Akkas was dismissed
for leaking information to the media and failing to give his
superiors timely updates on progress.
The government's attempts to impose new regulations on the
police anger some Turks who see an authoritarian streak in
Erdogan and flooded the streets in mass protests earlier this
The court ruling echoed an advisory issued the day before by
the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, a body which handles
court appointments independent of the government.
Those jurists were excoriated by Erdogan on Friday.
"The High Council of Judges and Prosecutors has committed a
crime," he said at Sakarya University after receiving an
honorary doctorate. "Now I ask: Who is going to try this
council? If I had the authority, I'd do it right away."
The putative Bilal Erdogan summons appeared to have come
from a prosecutor's office but was unsigned. Hurriyet quoted
Erdogan as saying he was the target of those naming Bilal.
"If they try to hit Tayyip Erdogan through this, they will
go away empty-handed. Because they know this, they're attacking
the people around me," he said.