Brawl erupts in Turkey parliament over judicial reforms
ANKARA - A brawl erupted in the Turkish parliament on Thursday as a heated debate on controversial judicial reforms turned nasty.
The deputy leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Bulent Tezcan, was injured and taken to hospital as fists flew in the assembly.
Media reports said the fracas flared after one lawmaker spoke about claims that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's son had been summoned to testify as part of a major corruption probe rocking the government.
But Bilal Erdogan's lawyer issued a statement, saying his client was "ready to testify" if prosecutors summon him, but that so far no summons had been received.
"Events in parliament today and reports that appeared on some media outlets about my client are statements that have no legal basis but are entirely politically motivated," lawyer Ahmet Ozel said.
"My client resides at a permanent (registered) address and we are ready to go and testify upon the issuance of a summons by the prosecutor's office."
Parliament is expected to vote from late Friday on a bill aimed at giving the government greater control over the judiciary, a move that has raised concerns at home and abroad about the weakening state of democracy in Turkey under Erdogan.
His government has also sacked or reassigned hundreds of police and prosecutors in what is seen as a reprisal for the corruption probe that has struck at the heart of the political elite.
In the latest move on Thursday, more than 160 officers were removed from their posts in the western metropolis of Bursa, a day after a similar shakeup in the main cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.
The Turkish media estimates that at least 2,500 police, including top officers, have been punished since the graft scandal erupted in mid-December.
Dozens of prosecutors, including senior lawyers leading the investigations, have also been sacked or reassigned.
More than 50 people including the sons of cabinet ministers and business leaders such as the head of a state bank were rounded up last month as part of the probe into alleged money laundering linked to Iran, gold smuggling and bribery in real estate projects.
Erdogan accuses an erstwhile ally, exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, of creating a "parallel" state to try to topple his government via loyalists in various institutions including the police and judiciary.
But the purges, coupled with the judicial moves and legislation curbing the Internet, have provoked criticism, particularly in the European Union which Turkey has long sought to join.
Fistfights also erupted earlier this month when MPs were debating the justice bill in a parliamentary commission.
The political turmoil has raised concerns over Turkey's economic outlook and sent the local currency plunging to all-time lows almost daily this year.
"Turkey is damaging itself with such a blinding quarrel," Muharrem Yilmaz, the head of the country's top business association, said of the feud between Erdogan and Gulen.
"We are worried about how groups outside politics are impacting politics," he added.