Turkey’s former president Abdullah Gul on Thursday vigorously defended his conduct after coming under heavy fire in pro-government media for staying on in an official presidential residence half a year after leaving office.
Gul, who handed over the presidency to his longtime ally Recep Tayyip Erdogan after August elections, is still living in the luxurious Huber Kosku (Huber Mansion) above the shores of the Bosphorus in the Istanbul suburb of Tarabya.
The controversy follows speculation Gul had acrimoniously fallen out with Erdogan and conservative figures in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), who blocked him from rejoining the government after leaving the presidency.
In a rare statement on his personal website, Gul said he had to carry on living in the presidential mansion due “to a delay related to the construction” of his new residence.
He said it was Erdogan’s suggestion that he stayed on in the mansion, which has been used as the Istanbul residence of the Turkish president since the 1980s.
Gul said he will leave the presidential compound once his new private residence is completed and was meeting “all expenses related to this force majeure accommodation.”
There has been considerable debate over the future political intentions of Gul, who in recent years has drawn his distance from the increasingly hardline Erdogan.
The Taraf daily said that this week that AKP officials, worried over his future plans, were secretly monitoring who was visiting Gul at the compound.
Allies of Gul, including his wife Hayrunnisa, have long complained he has been the target of a smear campaign in the pro-Erdogan press, including while he was still in office.
Sevilay Yukselir, commentator in the pro-government Sabah newspaper, accused Gull of wasting taxpayers’ money.
“It hasn’t been gifted to him as a lifetime accommodation!” she said.
“If he really respects ethical values, that mansion should immediately be evacuated. This is what is required of a decent statesman.”
Gul, who co-founded the AKP with Erdogan, has largely kept a low profile since leaving office.
But in January he called for greater democracy and a less confrontational style of politics, in an apparent message to his former comrade.
Gul had been a key figure in the AKP’s domination of Turkey since 2002, serving as its first prime minister, then foreign minister and president from 2007-2014.
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