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Europe

Turkish riot police break up protests as unrest worsens

© AFP

Video by Charlotte HAWKINS

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-28

Turkish riot police late Friday used water cannons and tear gas to break up demonstrations calling for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to step down, amid a corruption scandal that has led to the resignation of several of his ministers.

Police forcibly dispersed thousands of anti-government demonstrators in Ankara and Istanbul who had been calling for the government to step down.

In Istanbul, some protesters shot fireworks at police preventing them from reaching a central square. At least two protesters were hurt when police responded with tear gas.

Local prosecutors said at least 31 people were arrested.

The situation calmed hours later, but officers remained deployed.

Hundreds of protesters who had gathered in a central square in Ankara were also made to leave by riot police.

During the rally, some had held up shoe boxes in reference to images of boxes stuffed with millions of dollars found in the home of one corruption probe suspect, the head of state-controlled bank Halkbank.

Earlier this month, police detained dozens of people, among them the sons of the interior minister and two other cabinet members, after a major graft probe that was kept secret from commanders who might have informed the government in advance.

The fast-moving inquiry has struck at the heart of Turkey’s ruling elites and thrown up a serious challenge to Erdogan’s 11 years in power. It led to a comprehensive cabinet reshuffle after the resignation on Wednesday of three ministers whose sons were implicated in the probe.

The political fall out has also had economic repercussions, dealing a blow to the premier who has overseen a decade of growth.

Turkey's lira weakened to 2.1492 against the dollar at Friday's close, a record low after days of losses. The Istanbul stock market also dropped by 1.04 percent to 63,885.22 points.

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.

Pro-government media has suggested the corruption inquiry could be a setup to trigger a military coup.

But the army, seen as guarantor of the country’s secular traditions, made it clear on Friday that it would not get involved.

“The Turkish Armed Forces do not want to get involved in political debates,” it said on its website.

Power struggle with US-based cleric

The backdrop to the crisis appears to be a power struggle between Erdogan and former ally Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Turkish cleric who is hugely influential at home and whose followers hold key positions in the judiciary and the police.

In a bid to try to limit the damage, Erdogan has sacked dozens of police officers believed to be linked to Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999.

On Friday, in yet another twist to the political crisis, Turkey’s top court blocked implementation of a government decree ordering police to inform their superiors before launching investigations issued by public prosecutors.

In its ruling, the court said the decree – which was introduced last week after police conducted raids targeting senior figures including the sons of ministers and businessmen – “contradicts the principle of the separation of powers”.

The European Union has urged Turkey to address corruption allegations involving close government allies in a "transparent and impartial manner", saying there are “growing concerns” over the developments in the country. Turkey has hopes to one day join the European bloc.

The European Union has urged Turkey to address corruption allegations involving close government allies in a "transparent and impartial manner".

On Friday, Erdogan reiterated that the probe was a “smear campaign” orchestrated by outside forces bent on undermining his administration and the country’s economy.

Last week, he charged that “some ambassadors are engaged in provocative actions” and “we don’t have to keep you in our country”—all seen as a veiled threat to US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone.

Pro-government newspapers, meanwhile, went straight for Ricciardone, saying: “Get out of this country”.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded to the threats, saying her country finds the “baseless attacks” on the ambassador “deeply disturbing”.

“Turkish officials have assured us that they do not credit such false accusations against American officials, including Ambassador Ricciardone,” she said in a statement.

The US State Department responded to the threats by saying it finds the “baseless attacks” on the ambassador “deeply disturbing” and that it has made its concerns known to Turkish authorities.

The scandal has fuelled anti-government sentiment brewing since the mass protests that engulfed the country in June.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
 

Date created : 2013-12-27

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