Turkish legislators resign over corruption scandal

Turkey’s Justice and Development party is being directed by “arrogance”, said one of the legislators to quit, Ertugrul Gunay, who was a former culture minister.

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ANKARA // A former government minister was among three legislators to resign from Turkey’s ruling party on Friday amid a high-level bribery and corruption inquiry that has ensnared allies of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The resignations came as Turkey’s military said it would not get involved in the turmoil while the country’s top court ruled against a government decree ordering police to inform their superiors before launching investigations issued by public prosecutors.

Turkey’s Justice and Development party is being directed by “arrogance”, said one of the legislators to quit, Ertugrul Gunay, who was a former culture minister.

Another legislator, Erdal Kalkan, announced his resignation via Twitter. “This will not end here. Our honourable people see everything,” he tweeted.

A third AKP legislator, Haluk Ozdalga, also stepped down from the party, with Turkish riot police firing water cannons and plastic bullets to disperse hundreds of anti-government demonstrators who tried to gather in central Istanbul on Friday evening.

The corruption scandal has involved the sons of former ministers, top businessmen and the head of the state-run Halkbank, throwing Mr Erdogan’s government into disarray.

The Council of State, Turkey’s top administrative court, said it was ruling against the decree demanding police inform their superiors about investigations.

The government decree was introduced last week after police conducted raids targeting senior figures including the sons of ministers and businessmen as part of a fast-moving corruption inquiry.

The decree was seen as a bid by Mr Erdogan to contain the scandal, which has struck at the heart of Turkey’s ruling elites.

Mr Erdogan has responded swiftly to the investigation by sacking dozens of police chiefs and introducing measures seen by critics as an attempt to curb independent investigations by public prosecutors.

Political analysts link the probe to simmering tensions between Mr Erdogan’s government and followers of influential Turkish religious leader Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States.

Mr Gulen followers — known as the Gulen movement — hold key positions in various government branches including the police and judiciary.

Members of the Gulen movement previously collaborated with Mr Erdogan to curb the powers of Turkey’s once-dominant military through a series of court cases.

However, analysts believe that a falling-out between the movement and Mr Erdogan ahead of key elections next year led to the launch of the probe.

On Friday, the Turkish military issued a statement laying out its position.

“The Turkish Armed Forces do not want to get involved in political debates,” it said.

The statement came after a close aide of Mr Erdogan, Yalcin Akdogan, wrote in his column in a pro-government newspaper that the corruption scandal could be a set-up to trigger a military coup.

The army said it would stay away from the political debates and continue to perform its duties defined by law and the constitution.

The military, which in the past saw itself as the guarantor of Turkey’s secular principles, has carried out three coups — in 1960, 1971 and 1980, -- and pressured a government to step down in 1997.

Also on Friday, the European Union urged Turkey-who has applied for membership in the bloc-to address corruption allegations involving close government allies in a “transparent and impartial manner”.

* Agence France-Presse