Turkish president intervenes in political crisis

President Abdullah Gül is due to meet with PM Erdogan over a plan to restructure judiciary

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Turkish President Abdullah Gül intervened on Monday in the escalating dispute over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to curb the powers of judges as he battles a corruption scandal threatening his hold on power.

Gul held separate meetings with the heads of the opposition Republican People’s Party, Nationalist Movement Party and pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, NTV channel reported.

He is also due to meet on Tuesday with Erdogan, who is seeking to push through a bill that would increase government control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors.

Turkey’s top judicial body has called the measure unconstitutional.

The bill is widely seen as an attempt to head off the expanding corruption probe in which several of Erdogan’s business allies and the sons of ministers in his cabinet have been arrested.

The United States and the European Union have both voiced concern over the measure.

“(I) asked authorities to consult relevant amendments to laws before adoption to make sure they’re in line with principles of EU legislation,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said in a tweet on Sunday.

Erdogan has called the anti-corruption crackdown a “judicial coup,” ordered the sacking of hundreds of police officials involved and reshuffled his government after key ministers were forced to resign.

The Gulen Movement

Analysts say the episode is the result of a falling-out between Erdogan and an erstwhile supporter, U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose movement wields influence in the police and judiciary.

Republican People’s Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said after his meeting with Gul that the bill “throws 90 years of democratic gains in the garbage.”

“We have presented two preconditions to the president. First, the bill should be withdrawn. And second, the political power should not hamper the corruption investigation,” he said.

“But if they (Erdogan’s government) give us the necessary explanations, then a constitutional change may be on the agenda,” he added.

Several protests have been held in Ankara and Istanbul calling for Erdogan’s resignation, with police firing plastic bullets and tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

Scuffles erupted on Saturday ahead of a second round of debate on the proposals in parliament’s justice commission, with politicians throwing punches, water bottles and even an iPad.

The escalating tensions have also exposed a rivalry between Erdogan and Gul, also a former ally, ahead of presidential elections in August.

Observers have said Erdogan is setting his sights on the presidency, currently a largely ceremonial role, hoping to change the constitution to give the president U.S.-style executive powers.

Gul, who is expected either to be re-elected or be the next prime minister should Erdogan become president, has so far adopted a conciliatory approach toward the corruption-probe crisis and has repeatedly spoken out in support of judicial independence.

Commentators say the president, who is seen as closer to Gulen, is likely to veto Erdogan’s bill. But since he does not want to openly position himself against Erdogan, he is holding key meetings to iron out the differences until the bill comes his way.

Since parliament began discussing the bill on Friday, Gul has met with the parliamentary speaker, justice and interior ministers and a deputy prime minister at the presidential palace in Ankara.

[With AP and AFP]