A man swings a doner kebab knife at anti-government protesters in Istanbul yesterday.
ISTANBUL: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan swore yesterday he would survive a corruption crisis circling his cabinet, saying those seeking his overthrow would fail just like mass anti-government protests last summer.
Erdogan accused his opponents of trying to sap the power of Turkey, which has seen rapid economic growth and assertive foreign policies under his 11-year leadership, in the service of an international plot cloaked as criminal proceedings.
Yet striking a somewhat milder tone, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu appeared to seek common ground with a US-based Turkish cleric whose rivalry with Erdogan is widely seen as having stoked the controversy. On Friday, thousands of Turks demanding Erdogan step down clashed with riot police in central Istanbul. The trouble recalled protests in mid-2013 which began over development plans for the city’s Gezi park but broadened into complaints of authoritarianism under Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK party.
Erdogan, who is touring Turkey to drum up support before local elections in March, defied his accusers over the detention for suspected graft of three ministers’ sons and the head of state-run Halkbank on December 17.
“They said ‘Gezi’ and smashed windows. Now they say ‘corruption’ and smash windows. These conspiracies will not succeed,” he told a cheering crowd in western Manisa province. “Their concern is not corruption, law or justice. Their only concern is damaging this nation’s power.”
Erdogan’s government has purged about 70 police investigators involved in the case, while financial markets have taken fright and one AK official said national elections could be brought forward from 2015 if the crisis persists.
Although 7 protesters and a policeman were killed in last summer’s protests, Erdogan’s popularity was almost unaffected in opinion polls. Analysts say this was due to his strong support among pious Turks and wealthy elites, as well as the diffuse nature of those demonstrations.