ANKARA (Combined Sources)—Three Turkish cabinet members resigned over a spiraling corruption scandal on Wednesday and one of them urged a defiant Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to follow suit, Reuters reports.
The resigning interior, economy and environment ministers each had a son detained on Dec. 17 as police went public with a long-running investigation into graft allegations involving state-run lender Halkbank. Two of the sons remain in custody along with 22 others, including the head of the bank. Police are also investigating allegations of illicit money transfers to Iran and bribery for construction projects, among other things.
The first two ministers to resign echoed Erdogan in depicting the inquiry as baseless and a conspiracy. But Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar turned against the Turkish leader.
“For the sake of the wellbeing of this nation and country, I believe the prime minister should resign,” he told NTV news.
Erdogan named 10 new ministers – almost half of his total roster – after talks with President Abdullah Gul on Wednesday, the BBC reports.
In Istanbul, protesters held a street rally against corruption in the government. There were reports of clashes with riot police late on Wednesday evening.
In a speech, Erdogan said he would not tolerate corruption. But, having responded to the Dec. 17 graft arrests by sacking or reassigning around 70 of the police officers involved, he argued that their work had been deeply tainted.
The 14-month investigation was conducted largely in secret. At the weekend, the government changed regulations for the police, requiring officers to report evidence, investigations, arrests and complaints to commanding officers and prosecutors. Journalists have also been banned from police stations, Reuters reports.
Hurriyet newspaper said up to 550 police officers, including senior commanders, had been dismissed nationwide in the past week by Interior Minister Muammer Guler, who has now resigned.
“The only way you can explain an interior minister removing the police chiefs working in an investigation regarding his own family is that the aim is to obstruct evidence,” said Prof. Caliskan, who writes for the centrist newspaper Radikal.
“The prime minister thinks Turkish people are not very clever (but) he will be slapped hard at the ballot box.”
The Gulen Connection
Reuters says commentators believe the scandal has laid bare a power struggle between Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Turkish cleric whose Hizmet (“Service”) movement claims at least a million followers, including senior police officers and judges, and which runs schools and charities across Turkey, the United States and abroad.
Gulen, who has denied any involvement in the investigation, left Turkey in 1999 after being accused by the then government of plotting to establish an Islamic state. He was cleared of that charge but has never returned to Turkey and now lives in Pennsylvania.
The government has dismissed dozens of police officials who were either involved in the investigation or thought to be linked to Gulen, the BBC reports.
While denying any role in the affair, Gulen described Erdogan as suffering “decayed thinking” after the premier portrayed himself as fending off a shadowy international plot, Reuters reports.
In an apparent reference to Gulen, Erdogan said on Wednesday: “We would not allow certain organizations acting under the guise of religion but being used as the tools of certain countries to carry out an operation on our country.”