EU and former ally pile pressure on Turkish PM

3 min

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan faced criticism on two fronts on Tuesday as he made his first visit to Brussels in five years.


European Union leaders said they had taken the opportunity to tell Erdogan of their concerns over his crackdown on the judiciary and police. Meanwhile, in the United States, Fethullah Gulen, the exiled Islamic cleric locked in a damaging feud with Erdogan, gave a rare interview and accused the Turkish government of rolling back on democratic reforms.

Erdogan has purged hundreds of police and moved to impose tighter control on the courts in response to a corruption inquiry that has rocked his centre-right AK Party. AKP has Islamist roots and has been in power for more than a decade.

The crackdown has soured ties with the EU just as Turkey's bid to join the 28-nation bloc had appeared to be regaining some momentum. Even as Erdogan met officials in Brussels, his government launched another wave of dismissals of judges and prosecutors.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy told reporters: "It is important not to backtrack on achievements and to ensure that the judiciary is able to function without discrimination or preference,"

EU membership bid under threat?

Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, told Erdogan at a joint news conference that respect for rule of law and independence of the judiciary were basic principles of democracy and essential conditions for EU membership.

"Whatever the problems are, we believe that the solution for those problems should respect the principles of rule of law and separation of powers," Barroso said.

Erdogan responded by scolding EU leaders for raising the dispute in public, but generally struck a subdued note.

Erdogan has accused Gulen and his Hizmet network of acting as a "state within a state" to try to topple the government through a sweeping corruption probe targeting political and business leaders.

The government has retaliated by purging the police, moving to tighten controls over the judiciary and trying to mend fences with the army it once fought hard to rein in.

Coup plots

Gulen responded in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Tuesday. He warned that possible retrials for hundreds of army officers accused of coup plots could deal a blow to efforts to end the military's involvement over in democratic institutions.

"A broad spectrum of Turkish people, including Hizmet participants, supported AKP for democratising reforms, for ending the military tutelage over politics and for moving Turkey forward in the EU accession process," Gulen told the Journal.

But he said Turks were "upset that in the last two years the democratic progress is now being reversed" and that moves to draft a new civilian constitution had been abandoned.

Gulen, a 73-year-old preacher who has lived in the United States since 1999 to escape charges in Turkey of "anti-secular" activities, also sounded the alarm over suggestions that fresh trials could be held for hundreds of army officers jailed for coup plots against the AKP government.

He said the push for the retrials appeared to be "politically motivated rather than a desire for justice" and would represent a dramatic reversal of efforts to rein in the military, which has waged three coups in Turkey's modern history.



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