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Turkey in new mass purge as MPs debate judicial reforms

  • Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine Erdogan wave before their departure for Brussels at Esenboga Airport in Ankara January 20, 2014. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

ISTANBUL: Turkey launched a mass new purge of the police and judiciary on Wednesday as parliament debates controversial reforms that have heightened the crisis engulfing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Around 470 police were sacked or reassigned in the capital Ankara alone, NTV television reported, in the latest fallout from a corruption scandal targeting several top politicians and business leaders including Erdogan allies.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) removed 96 judges and prosecutors from their posts.

The shakeups came as Erdogan, on a visit to Brussels to try to advance Turkey's EU membership bid, defended government moves to tighten its control of the judiciary.

Those removed in the latest purge include five chief prosecutors and other senior figures who oversaw the trials against hundreds of top military officers convicted of plotting against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

At least 2,000 police and prosecutors have been dismissed or reassigned in recent weeks in what critics have blasted as government efforts to stifle the graft probe.

Dozens of people including the sons of ministers, civil servants and business leaders, including the head of a state-owned bank, were rounded up a month ago on allegations of bribery in construction projects, money laundering, gold smuggling and illicit dealings with Iran.

But Erdogan and his allies insist it is a "coup plot" by supporters of exiled Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, a onetime AKP supporter, to destabilise the government ahead of March local elections.

The turmoil has also had a major impact on the economy, sending the lira tumbling to record lows almost daily and jeopardising government growth targets.

In Brussels, the prime minister refused to budge on the reforms despite EU concerns about the threat to the independence of the judiciary, a key criteria for membership of the European club.

"The judiciary should not go beyond its defined mission and mandate. This is what we're doing. Anything else is misinformation and disinformation," Erdogan said at a news conference.

"Certain recommendations have been made by our European friends and we have taken them into account," he said.

"Other modifications possibly will be made," he added, without elaborating. "But the law must come into force as quickly as possible."

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said he had urged Erdogan "not to backtrack on achievements and to assure that the judiciary is able to function without discrimination or preference, in a transparent and impartial manner".

Parliament was due to continue Wednesday debating the bill, which notably calls for a greater government say in appointments at the HSYK, the country's top independent judicial body.

The corruption scandal has sparked new protests against Erdogan after he faced down a wave of nationwide anti-government demonstrations in June.

Turks have come out on to the streets to demand his resignation over the corruption scandal and what many see as his increasingly authoritarian rule, including recent moves to clamp down on the Internet.

Human Rights Watch said in a report Tuesday that the AKP party had demonstrated "growing intolerance of political opposition, public protest and critical media".

In the wake of the latest crisis, the government has sought to repair ties with the army despite its long campaign to rein in the military's powers.

Erdogan has said he would not oppose the idea of possible retrials for hundreds of military officers who were convicted in 2012 and 2013 for plotting to topple his government.

The mass trials have succeeded in clipping the wings of the military, which has led coups against three previous administrations since 1960 as self-declared guardians of the secular state.

But Gulen warned in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Tuesday that the possible retrials appeared to be politically motivated and "would be a blow to the democratic reforms of the recent decades".

In his first interview since the crisis erupted more than a month ago, he said Turks were "upset that in the last two years the democratic progress is now being reversed".

 
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Summary

Turkey launched a mass new purge of the police and judiciary on Wednesday as parliament debates controversial reforms that have heightened the crisis engulfing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The shakeups came as Erdogan, on a visit to Brussels to try to advance Turkey's EU membership bid, defended government moves to tighten its control of the judiciary.

Those removed in the latest purge include five chief prosecutors and other senior figures who oversaw the trials against hundreds of top military officers convicted of plotting against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

At least 2,000 police and prosecutors have been dismissed or reassigned in recent weeks in what critics have blasted as government efforts to stifle the graft probe.

Erdogan has said he would not oppose the idea of possible retrials for hundreds of military officers who were convicted in 2012 and 2013 for plotting to topple his government.


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