Third Turkish minister steps down, calls on PM to quit

Turkey's environment minister becomes the third in the cabinet to resign over an anti-graft probe that has roiled the government.

Turkey’s European Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis, left, and Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan greet their supporters at Esenboga Airport in Ankara on  December 24, 2013. Caglayan was one of three Turkish ministers who resigned Wednesday after their sons were arrested in a corruption investigation that has pitted the government against the judiciary and rattled foreign investors.  Photo: Umit Bektas / Reuters
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ANKARA// Turkey’s environment minister stepped down on Wednesday, the third in the cabinet to resign over an anti-graft probe that has roiled the government, calling on the prime minister to follow suit.

“I am stepping down as minister and lawmaker,” Erdogan Bayraktar told NTV television. “I believe the prime minister should also resign.”

The move comes shortly after economy minister Zafer Caglayan and interior minister Muammer Guler announced their resignations.

The sons of Mr Guler and Mr Caglayan are among 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.

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

Mr Bayraktar was the sole minister to call on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip 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.”

The television network cut the live broadcast after the minister’s statement, a move that immediately raised a stir on Twitter, with critics slamming it as censorship.

Police conducted raids last week and detained dozens of people suspected of numerous offences including accepting and facilitating bribes for development projects and securing construction permits for protected areas in exchange for money.

Mr Erdogan, who has led Turkey since 2002 as the head of a conservative Islamic-leaning government, has described the probe as “a smear campaign” to undermine Turkey’s ambitions to become a major political and economic power.

Agence France-Presse