* Top judge says allegations against judiciary caused
* Justice minister retaliates with sharp criticism
* Judiciary caught up in PM's power struggle with cleric
* President approves law widening spy powers
(Adds approval of spy agency law)
By Gulsen Solaker
ANKARA, April 25 In a defiant challenge to
Turkey's prime minister, the head of the Constitutional Court
complained on Friday of political criticism which he said had
traumatised and divided the judiciary.
Hasim Kilic's uncompromising speech, made in the presence of
a grim-looking Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, will exacerbate
the tense relationship between the government and judiciary,
creating a further headache for Erdogan as he weighs a run for
Erdogan has said swathes of Turkey's lawyers and police are
under the sway of his arch-foe, U.S.-based Muslim cleric
Fethullah Gulen. He has clashed with judges over a series of
"To say that the Constitutional Court acts with a political
agenda or to blame it for not being patriotic is shallow
criticism," chief judge Kilic told a ceremony broadcast live on
local TV channels.
"It is striking that a constitutional ruling has been
criticised excessively with political worries," he said, in a
reference to Erdogan's comment this month that he did not
respect the court's lifting of a government-imposed ban on
That ban was seen by Erdogan's critics as an attempt to halt
a string of audio leaks purportedly revealing corruption in the
government. Erdogan has branded the audio clips, which he says
are "fabricated", as part of a campaign waged by Gulen and his
followers in the judiciary to wreck the government.
Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan's ruling Islamist-rooted AK
Party, denies these claims. Critics say the prime minister is
destroying judicial independence and media freedoms in Turkey in
a bid to cover up corruption in his inner circle. He rejects
In a separate development on Friday, Turkey's president
approved a law boosting the powers of the secret service, in a
move Erdogan's critics see as a bid to tighten his control.
The law gives the secret service more scope for foreign
operations and eavesdropping, while offering top agents greater
immunity from prosecution.
In his speech, judge Kilic said Erdogan's allegations that
parts of the judiciary formed an effective "parallel state" in
Turkey were "very dire and serious".
"It is impossible for the judiciary to remain on its feet
while it remains tarnished with this allegation," Kilic said,
urging those behind the claims to provide evidence.
"The allegations caused a psychological trauma within
judicial institutions," he said.
Erdogan, famed for his intolerance of criticism, abruptly
left the ceremony after Kilic's speech, skipping a reception.
His justice minister, Bekir Bozdag, accused the judge of
behaving like the political opposition.
"Apparently the main opposition party and other opposition
parties have failed...and our constitutional court head seems to
be intent on filling this gap," he added.
The corruption scandal erupted when police detained sons of
ministers and businessmen close to Erdogan on Dec. 17.
Thousands of police and judiciary members have been removed
from their posts and access to social media sites blocked, in
what is widely regarded as a backlash against the probe.
Erdogan remains Turkey's most popular politician after
presiding over a decade of strong economic growth. His party
trounced its rivals in March local elections, a result which has
restored some calm to Turkish politics and financial markets.
Erdogan is keen to avoid renewed tensions ahead of his
expected bid for Turkey's presidency in an August election, a
move opponents fear could feed what they see as his
(Additional reporting by Ozge Ozbilgin, Humeyra Pamuk and Ece
Toksabay; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)