Erdogan presents new cabinet after resignations

A demonstrator waves a Turkish flag as others hold a banner reading "government resign" during a protest against corruption in the Kadikoy district of Istanbul on Dec. 25, 2013.(Reuters)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan presented a new list of cabinet ministers to President Abdullah Gul on Wednesday after three ministers stepped down over an investigation into a massive corruption and bribery scandal, Turkish media reported.

It was unclear if more than the resigned ministers had been replaced. Erdogan is expected to make a statement later amid the spiraling corruption scandal.

Environment minister earlier became the third cabinet member to resign and called on the prime minister to step down as well.
“I am stepping down as minister and lawmaker,” Erdogan Bayraktar told the private NTV television. “I believe the prime minister should also resign,” AFP reported.

The move came shortly after Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Interior Minister Muammer Guler announced their resignations.
The sons of Guler and Caglayan are among the two dozen people who have been charged as part of a high-level bribery and corruption probe that has ensnared close government allies and top businessmen. They are currently in detention.

The son of Bayraktar was detained last week as part of the probe, but has not been formally charged and has been released pending trial.

Bayraktar was the sole minister to call on Prime Minister Erdogan to follow suit.

“There is nothing in the investigation file that hurts me or that I cannot explain,” he said.

“It’s prime minister’s natural right to work with or remove whichever minister he would like to,” he added.

“But I don’t accept any pressure to resign over an operation involving bribery and corruption. I don’t accept it because a big majority of construction plans laid down and approved in the investigation dossier were carried out with the approval of the prime minister.”

In his first public appearance after the resignations, the prime minister, who during three terms in office has transformed Turkey by tackling its once-dominant secular military and overseen rapid economic expansion, appeared unmoved.
Procedures, purges

Prime Minister Erdogan said in a speech that 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.

“If a verdict is made by the opposition party on the second day of the investigation, what’s the point of having judges? If a decision is made by the media, what’s the point of having these long legal procedures?” Erdogan told provincial leaders of his Islamist-rooted AK party.

Alluding to TV news reports which have riveted Turks with footage of cash-filled shoeboxes allegedly seized at suspects’ homes, he asked: “How do you know what that money is for?”

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.

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.

Erdogan’s critics see an authoritarian streak in his rule. The European Union, to which Turkey has long sought accession, on Tuesday urged Ankara to safeguard the separation of powers.

“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.”

Turkey’s next parliamentary election is not until 2015, but local elections are due in March. Pollsters see a modest erosion of AK’s popular support so far, but say it could gather pace.

In a fourth resignation on Wednesday, AK lawmaker Idris Naim Sahin, a former interior minister, told the party he was also stepping down, according to sources in his office.

Dispute with Gulen

The scandal has laid bare rivalry 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 and abroad.

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.

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.”

(With AFP and Reuters)

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