Turkey passes controversial 'nightwatchmen' bill

Istanbul (AFP) –


Turkey's parliament passed a controversial bill on Wednesday giving neighbourhood patrols greater powers, with critics accusing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of wanting to build a loyal "militia".

The new law gives "nightwatchmen", who walk the streets at night to report burglaries and disturbances, almost the same powers as police.

They will now be allowed to carry firearms and have the powers to stop and search people.

With more than 28,000 members, the nightwatchmen institution -- which is attached to the interior ministry and dates back more than 100 years -- has grown considerably after an attempted coup in July 2016 against Erdogan.

The bill's debate in parliament triggered heated exchanges, with deputies even coming to blows during a feisty session on Tuesday.

Erdogan's AKP party, which put forward the bill, says the new rules will enable the nightwatchmen to more effectively help law enforcement by thwarting burglaries and preventing assaults on the streets.

In old Turkish films the guards are portrayed as benevolent uncles patrolling the streets with a whistle between their lips, on the lookout for troublemakers.

But the opposition accused Erdogan of authoritarianism by setting up a loyal armed force.

"They are using the institution of nightwatchmen to set up a militia," Mahir Polat from the main opposition CHP party said on Tuesday, adding the police should be reinforced if needed.