ANKARA: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan charged on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) that the detention of dozens of people in a high-profile graft probe was an “ugly” operation against his government.
Several dozen police chiefs have been sacked in the wake of the dawn raids on Tuesday, which led to the detention of 51 people including the sons of three ministers and several top business leaders, sending shockwaves through Turkey’s political establishment.
The operation has exposed deep fractures in Erdogan’s traditional support base, par-ticularly a bitter feud between his government and an influential Muslim cleric who wields considerable clout in the police and the judiciary.
Political tensions are running high in Turkey ahead of a series of elections starting next year that will pose a key test for Erdogan after the anti-government unrest in June.
Erdogan branded the graft probe an “ugly operation” against the government.
“We will not allow political plotting,” he told reporters in Ankara. “Nobody has the right to darken the future of this country.”
Erdogan said police chiefs had been removed from their posts because they were using their positions for abusing power and warned that more could follow in other cities.
At least 16 police chiefs in Istanbul and 18 in Ankara had been sacked, local media reported.
Those detained are suspected of numerous offenses including accepting and facilitating bribes for development projects and securing construction permits for protected areas in exchange for money, as well as gold smuggling and money laundering, according to press reports.
Among the suspects are the sons of Interior Minister Muammer Guler, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar along with the chief executive of state-owned Halkbank, Suleyman Aslan, and construction tycoon Ali Agaoglu.
Police also seized $4.5 million in cash hidden in shoe boxes in Aslan’s home, the Dogan News Agency reported, citing judicial sources.
“We believe our ministers are innocent,” Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said, adding however that the government was ready to dismiss them if necessary.
For his part, Erdogan pledged the government would take “necessary steps when needed.”