Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the corruption inquiry as the work of “dark alliances” and has vowed to expose those involved.
Turkish police fired water cannons and tear gas in Istanbul to disperse thousands of people protesting against alleged corruption in which scores of people, including sons of Cabinet ministers, have been arrested. The demonstrators also protested against the government’s urbanization plans.
The protesters gathered in the city’s Kadikoy Square and called for the resignation of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party government.
The prime minister has responded to the probe with a purge in the police force, dismissing police officials for cooperating with the investigation without permission.
Ambitious urban development projects led by Erdogan, a former Istanbul mayor, were one cause of massive anti-government protests in June sparked by a police crackdown on a peaceful sit-in against plans to demolish a park in Istanbul.
At least six people died and 8,000 were hurt in three weeks of nationwide demonstrations against Erdogan’s government.
In the Black Sea town of Giresun, Erdogan told a crowd of supporters that his Islamist-rooted AK was facing a “dark plot” by forces outside Turkey who wanted to split the country apart. “Let our friends and foes know this. Whoever dares to harm, stir up or set traps in this country, whoever tries to touch our independence, we will come to break those hands,” he said.
The investigation has led to charges against 24 people so far. They are suspected of involvement in bribery, in connection with urban development projects and the allocation of construction permits.
Baris Guler, the son of Interior Minister Muammer Guler, and Kaan Caglayan, son of Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan, are among those detained, as is the chief executive of the state-owned Halkbank, Suleyman Aslan, according to a report on the BBC.
In Twitter comments on Sunday, December 23, the two sons denied the accusations.
Commentators in Turkey report that the arrests and firings reflect a feud within Turkey’s ruling AK Party, between those who back Erdogan and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic scholar living in exile in the US.
In Istanbul protesters chanted “everywhere is bribery, everywhere is corruption”. It was an echo of the Taksim Square mass protest this summer, when opposition activists chanted “everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance”.
The controversial arrests in the anti-corruption crackdown began last week when police launched dawn raids in Istanbul and Ankara.
Erdogan reacted angrily and on Thursday, December 19th, the head of Istanbul’s police was forced from his position. More than 30 senior police officers have reportedly been sacked, according to a BBC report.
Members of Mr Gulen’s Hizmet movement are said to hold influential positions in institutions such as the police, the judiciary and the AK Party itself.
Erdogan’s defiant message drew criticism from Turkish press commentators on Monday.
Semih Idiz in the leftist Taraf said that “as in the Gezi incidents, Erdogan thinks he can get out of this scandal by linking the issue to a conspiracy organized by internal and external powers”.
Asli Aydintasbas in Milliyet wrote that “Tayyip Erdogan will probably win the fight that he has got into against the Gulen Movement by using the sanction power of the state – but then the regime that is built will be a ‘Tayyip Erdogan regime’ and not a democracy”.
Ali H Aslan in the moderate Zaman said “Erdogan likes to take the credit when things go well and accuse his friends, partners or unrelated parties when things go badly…
“These excessive internal and external enemy fantasies, which could drag Turkey into dangerous situations and ruin the country’s stability, should be abandoned.”