Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Corruption Scandal In Turkey: The End of Erdogan?

 Protesters in Turkey flee from tear gas. (Photo: © Reuters)

From The Clarion Project.

Corruption Scandal: Turks Demand Resignation of Erdogan

Turkish protesters once again face off with lines of police as they protest the Islamist AKP Party’s corruption scandal in Turkey and demand AKP Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to resign.

Since the corruption investigation was launched on December 17, five AKP members of parliament have resigned, including the three whose sons are being investigated for corruption, forcing Erdogan to reshuffle his cabinet.

Even though several top AKP party ministers have resigned and he has rearranged his cabinet, Erdogan refuses to admit any guilt on behalf of the Islamist AKP party. Recently, Erdogan’s own son Bilal, who is the head of several companies, has come under some suspicion in the anti-corruption operation.

Erdogan has fired police chiefs and police officers all over Turkey, even the chief of police of Istanbul. He has fired prosecutors who issued search warrants for the operation and removed judges. Erdogan even issued new orders that no surprise corruption operations could be launched without first informing his AKP party and Erdogan himself. This infuriated Turkey’s prosecutors, who labeled this decree illegal and unconstitutional.

Istanbul prosecutor Muammar Akkas, whom Erdogan fired from the corruption inquiry, stated, "By means of the police force, the judiciary was subjected to open pressure, and the execution of court orders was obstructed. A crime has been committed throughout the chain of command. ... Suspects have been allowed to take precautions, flee and tamper with the evidence."

The country’s highest court issued a statement, saying it “does not take instructions or requests from anyone and acts according to powers that have been conferred to it by the constitution.”

About 1,000 protesters flooded the Taksim Square metro station in Istanbul on December 31, demanding Erdogan’s resignation. Protesters also assembled in the capital of Ankara.

The inquiry, known as "the operation" inside Turkey, took everyone by surprise, including billionaire builders, heads of banks, members of the AKP Party and their families -- even Prime Minister Erdogan himself.

Erdogan struck back by declaring that the corruption inquiry was initiated by "international forces" that aimed to take down him and the AKP party. He accused former ally, Muslim Cleric Fetullah Gulen, whose system of "Hizmet" private language schools Erdogan had begun to shut down in Turkey.

Gulen, who controls vast wealth and power through his million-plus Hizmet followers, also wields power inside Turkey's police, secret service and courts. Gulen broadcasts his Islamic teaching through his television and newspaper media. He fled to American in 1999 after being accused of trying to set up an Islamic state in Turkey and lives on an estate near Philadelphia.

The private Hizmet schools prepare students to get into the best schools of higher education and provide support for Gullen, both financially and with their graduates. The police force and judiciary are filled with Hizmet graduates.

Erdogan also accused Israel and America of being behind the operation, even issuing a warning to U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone. Erdogan later softened his tone toward Ricciardone and other ambassadors when the European Union and American issued statements of concern over Erdgoan's actions and rhetoric.

The corruption issue took to the streets this past week as thousands of gathered in Ankara and Istanbul to demand Erdgoan’s resignation and transfer of the country’s government away from AKP party power and back to Ataturk’s secular democracy party, the CHP.

Protesters held up shoe boxes to illustrate the vast amounts of cash found stashed in the houses of AKP party ministers’ sons rich builders and heads of banks, especially Halkbank, one of Turkey's largest banks, which has also been implicated in illegal gold trade with Iran.

Erdogan quickly dispatched to the protests hordes of police who used water cannons, pepper spray and rubber bullets against the protesters. Erdogan also placed a media block on coverage of the protests.

Turkey still has the highest number of journalists in prison than any other country, and many television stations have seen their employees and even presidents arrested. Only one newspaper, Cumhuriyet, which was founded by Ataturk himself, has perpetual legal protection from being shut down or disbanded.

The Turkish lira is at a record low, and more AKP party members may resign. Former culture minister Ertugrul Gunay said the party was directed by arrogance.

The U.S. State Department issued a warning to Americans living in Turkey to avoid protests, especially one scheduled in Istanbul last night at 7:00 p.m.

"Taksim is very dangerous right now," an American who has lived in Istanbul for years stated. "My partner could not get home by any other way than taking the ferry from the European side, and even that was filled with protesters. All the train station windows in Taksim are broken, and police fill the streets, waiting for protesters."

"I finally got a little quiet after all the protests last night," an American woman who has also lived in Istanbul for years reported. "The Turks are very angry about the corruption scandal, and the police are everywhere."

"I don't think that Erdogan will step down. It will not be easy to change his regime," a Turkish man commented.

Yet, with three months to go before key local elections, Erdogan's AKP party may be on its way out of power in Turkey.

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