ISTANBUL: Turkey’s embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared open war Wednesday on what he labeled an “empire of fear” created by an Islamic rival at the heart of a deepening political crisis.
Erdogan accused loyalists of influential Turkish Sheikh Fethullah Gulen of outright treachery over what he says is a coup plot launched in the guise of a corruption probe that has ensnared several key allies.
He urged Turkey’s ambassadors to tell their counterparts across the globe about the “true face of this organization,” its “ambitions and desires” and the “dimensions of the danger.”
Erdogan was clearly referring to supporters of Gulen, an Islamic preacher exiled in the United States but who retains considerable influence in several state apparatus including the police and judiciary.
However, since the crisis first erupted in December, he has notably refused to ever mention Gulen or his Hizmet (Service) movement by name.
“The empire of fear established by this organization particularly in the judiciary and police should be well explained,” he told the ambassadors meeting in Ankara.
Erdogan’s government has been shaken to its core since dozens of people including several members of his inner circle were detained in December on allegations including bribery over construction projects, money laundering and gold smuggling linked to Iran.
The prime minister, who took office in 2003 pledging to wipe out corruption, has struck back by seeking to curb the judiciary and has purged hundreds of police and prosecutors involved in the investigation.
“The target here is not the government or the party but the country and its national interests,” he said. “The target is Turkey and 76 million [people]. It cannot be explained other than treachery.”
Erdogan said the actions of the Gulenists – onetime supporters of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) – had also dealt a blow to the Turkish economy by scaring away foreign investors.
Erdogan took power after years of unstable governments and an economic meltdown, pledging to rebuild the country as a regional political and economy power.
But growth has slowed sharply after hitting rates of close to 9 percent in 2010, with the government now forecasting growth of 4 percent this year.