Demonstrators protest against Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Ak Party government in Ankara yesterday.
ANKARA: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday openly challenged his arch-rival, US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, to return home as their feud deepened with a second leaked recording linking the premier to a corruption scandal.
In his first direct appeal to Gulen, Erdogan said: “If you have not done anything wrong, do not stay in Pennsylvania. If your homeland is Turkey, come back to your homeland”.
“If you want to engage in politics, go out to the squares. But do not stir up this country. Do not disturb the peace of this country,” he told a boisterous crowd of supporters in the southwestern city of Burdur.
Erdogan has repeatedly accused associates of Gulen, who has strong ties to Turkey’s police and judiciary, of being behind a high-level corruption probe that has ensnared some of his key political and business allies.
But after months of veiled finger-pointing, Thursday’s speech appeared to mark the first time Erdogan directly called out his ally-turned-enemy Gulen, who has been living in self-imposed exile in the US state of Pennsylvania since 1999.
Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government, which once teamed up with so-called Gulenists to tame the influence of Turkey’s military, has alleged the movement is seeking to destabilise Turkey ahead of local elections in March and presidential elections in August.
The corruption scandal erupted on December 17 when dozens of Erdogan allies were detained in police raids on allegations of bribery in construction projects, gold smuggling and illicit dealings with Iran.
The premier retaliated by sacking hundreds of police and prosecutors believed to be linked to Gulen, but the crisis has evolved into the biggest challenge yet to Erdogan’s 11 years in power.
Tensions have risen further with a phone tapping scandal putting Erdogan at the heart of fresh corruption allegations.
An audio recording was leaked on Monday in which Erdogan and his son allegedly discuss hiding €30m on the day of the police raids. Erdogan said the audio was fabricated by his rivals using a “vile montage”.
In another blow to the premier, a second tape was posted online on Wednesday in which Erdogan can supposedly be heard advising his son not to accept $10m promised by a businessman in order to extort more money from him.
“Don’t take it. Whatever he has promised us, he should bring it. If he is not going to bring that, there is no need,” the voice purportedly belonging to Erdogan says.
“The others are bringing (the agreed amount of money). Why can’t he? What do they think this business is?... But don’t worry they will fall into our lap.”
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag dismissed the tapes as “slander” aimed at weakening Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the run-up to the polls.
“Mr prime minister is an honest leader,” he told reporters. “We know that (the recordings) are fake.”
The wiretapped conversations have triggered protests against Erdogan and his AKP government, while the opposition has called for the premier’s resignation.
Local media, meanwhile, reported that the AKP was now mulling whether to issue an international arrest warrant for Gulen.
Bozdag however said such an arrest warrant was not within the authority of the executive but he did vow to punish any civil servant who “acts against law and the constitution and receives instructions from other people”.
Speculation that the Gulen movement may face legal action was fuelled by a meeting on Wednesday of Turkey’s National Security Council, bringing together the country’s top civilian and military brass.
In a statement afterwards, the body said it had discussed organisations and their activities that “threaten our national security”.