Turkey PM Erdogan condemns 'dirty' corruption probe

Police escort Mustafa Demir, mayor of Istanbul's Fatih district, after his arrest, 18 December Mustafa Demir, mayor of Istanbul's Fatih district, was among those arrested

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denounced a corruption inquiry as a "dirty operation" against his government.

Some 52 people - including three sons of cabinet ministers - were arrested in dawn raids on Tuesday in connection with a high-profile bribery inquiry.

Five police chiefs who oversaw raids in Istanbul and Ankara were sacked for "abuse of office", Mr Erdogan said.

"We will not allow political plotting," the prime minister said.

However, the deputy prime minister promised not to stand in the way of the judicial process.

Analysis

A decade ago, Recep Tayyip Erdogan changed Turkish politics by putting together an unofficial alliance of business leaders, the working class and the religious. This alliance included members of an influential, well-organised Islamic social movement led by the exiled scholar Fethullah Gulen.

This wide base of support won Mr Erdogan three general elections. It allowed him to survive two weeks of popular, but unorganised protest in June. But in recent weeks, Mr Erdogan has alienated one crucial element of his alliance - the Gulen movement. In return, many here believe that Mr Gulen's supporters in the judiciary and the police have gone after the prime minister's allies on corruption charges.

This struggle may pose a threat to Mr Erdogan's undeclared ambition to run for president in 2014.

"We will always respect any decision made by the judiciary and will not engage in any effort to block this process," Bulent Arinc said.

Commentators in Turkey believe the arrests - and subsequent firings - are evidence of a new dramatic fault-line in Turkish politics, one within the AK Party itself, the BBC's James Reynolds reports.

The feud is believed to involve supporters of Fethullah Gulen, an influential Islamic scholar living in self-imposed exile in the US who once backed the ruling AK Party, helping it to victory in three elections since 2002.

Members of Mr Gulen's Hizmet movement are said to hold influential positions in institutions such as the police, the judiciary and the AK Party itself.

In recent months, the alliance began to come apart and in November the government discussed closing down private schools, including those run by Hizmet.

Mr Gulen has been living in the US since 1999, when he was accused in Turkey of plotting against the secular state.

'Abuse of powers'

The five police commissioners sacked include the heads of the financial crime and organised crime units, who were both involved in the earlier arrests, the Turkish daily Hurriyet reports.

Also dismissed were the heads of the smuggling unit, the anti-terrorism branch and the public security branch, the paper says.

In a brief statement, the police said they had reassigned some staff, in some cases due to alleged misconduct and others "out of administrative necessity".

James Reynolds: "A challenge from within his own party by an organised movement may pose much more of a threat to the Prime Minister"

The mass arrests were carried out as part of an inquiry into alleged bribery involving public tenders.

The sons of Interior Minister Muammer Guler, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar were among those detained.

The Hizmet movement

  • Hizmet ("service") is the Turkish name of what is commonly known as the Gulen movement
  • The movement is inspired by the teachings of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the US
  • There is no formal structure but its followers are numbered in the millions

Police also raided the Ankara headquarters of one of Turkey's biggest banks, state-run lender Halkbank, and the headquarters of a large construction company owned by tycoon Ali Agaoglu.

Police searching the home of detained Halkbank general manager Suleyman Aslan have found $4.5m (£2.7m; 3.2m euros) in cash hidden in shoe boxes in his library, Turkey's Dogan news agency reports.

The arrests were made as part of three separate investigations, according to Hurriyet

  • An inquiry into allegations of a crime ring involving Azeri businessman Reza Zarrab (arrested), in which cabinet ministers were bribed in order to cover suspicious money transactions to Iran through Halkbank, and to obtain Turkish citizenship
  • An inquiry into Abdullah Oguz Bayraktar (arrested), son of the environment minister, on suspicion that he set up a crime ring and accepted bribes from major firms in exchange for construction permits in areas under the ministry's supervision
  • An inquiry into allegations that protected areas of Istanbul's Fatih district were developed illegally in return for bribes and that district mayor Mustafa Demir (arrested) allowed the construction of a hotel, ignoring negative reports from engineers and state institutions

There was no response to the allegations by those arrested.

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