ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan slammed European countries on Friday for criticizing deteriorating press freedom in Turkey and said they should instead try to find a solution for what he said was increasing Islamophobia in the continent.
Turkish police earlier this month raided media outlets close to U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan accuses of forming a ‘parallel state’ to undermine his rule and orchestrating a graft scandal targeting his inner circle.
The European Union, which Turkey has been seeking to join for decades, said the media raids ran counter to European values, a criticism already dismissed by Erdogan. On Friday, the President repeated his discontent, with a visibly harsher tone.
“We are not Europe’s scapegoat,” Erdogan told a symposium of civil servants. “We are definitely not a country that Europe can point its finger at and scold. Instead of criticizing us, Europe should find a solution to increasing racism and Islamophobia.”
He made reference to an incident in the German city of Dormagen, where ultra nationalists drew Nazi signs on the walls of a mosque construction, according to reports in Turkish local media earlier this week.
Erdogan, whose AK Party was elected in 2002, introduced many democratic reforms in his first years in power and curbed army involvement in politics.
NATO allies often cited Turkey as an example of a successful Muslim democracy, but more recently critics have accused Erdogan of intolerance of dissent.
Erdogan also repeated his determination to forge a new constitution, saying the result of next year’s general election could help speed up the process.
“Together with our nation and civil society institutions, the results of June 7 elections will pave the way for the swift preparation of a new constitution,” he said.
Erdogan, who became Turkey’s first popularly elected head of state in August after 12 years as prime minister, has made no secret of his ambition to change the constitution and bolster the powers of the presidency, a move opponents fear will herald increasingly authoritarian rule.
The outcome of June’s parliamentary election will therefore be key. If the ruling AK Party can control a two thirds majority, it could introduce reforms without opposition support, including the creation of the strong executive presidency Erdogan seeks.
Reporting by Tulay Karadeniz, Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Dominic Evans