Removal of top prosecutors in Turkey: Erdogan ‘police state’ flexes muscles
Turkish authorities removed several prosecutors from key posts on Thursday in the latest fallout from the high-level corruption scandal plaguing the government.
The Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which is headed by Turkey's justice minister, said that 20 prosecutors were being reassigned including the chief Istanbul prosecutor Turhan Colakkadi.
It also announced it had approved a probe into several top prosecutors who led the high-level corruption inquiry that became public last month and have already been removed from their positions.
The government has embarked on a mass purge of police and prosecutors in the wake of the probe that has ensnared key allies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
But underscoring the increasingly complex nature of the crisis and the myriad political powerplays, the government is also seeking to increase its control of the HSYK, the country's top judicial body.
The embattled Turkish leader has accused supporters of a rival Islamic cleric who wields considerable influence in the judiciary and police of launching the investigation as part of a "coup plot" against his government.
He was forced into a major cabinet reshuffle last month after the resignation of three ministers whose sons were detained in the anti-graft police raids in December.
The mass sackings and measures to curb the judiciary have stoked concerns both in Turkey and abroad about the independence of state institutions and the risks to democracy in the face of the escalating crisis.
And the leader of Turkey's top business group warned that the country risks becoming a police state.
"We are facing a heavy agenda in which the judiciary has become the battlefield of a political struggle," Turkish Industry and Business Association head Muharrem Yilmaz said.
"A state that doesn't abide by its own rules cannot be described as a state of law, not even as a state with laws. It can only be described as a police state," he said at a conference this week.
The Turkish currency has also taken a battering from the crisis, hitting a new record low of 2.20 to the dollar on Thursday -- extending losses of well over 20 percent since last May.
Colakkadi and several other prosecutors affected by Thursday's shakeup had overseen the trials of military officers convicted in 2012 and 2013 of plotting coups against Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government.
Colakkadi had been at loggerheads with another Istanbul prosecutor, Muammer Akkas, who was himself removed from his post after pushing to widen the corruption probe and reportedly seeking to arrest Erdogan's son.
"We will do whatever task we are given. It is the decision of the HSYK," Colakkadi said in response to his reassignment.
Erdogan has gone on the offensive against supporters of US-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, a one-time ally of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) but who has now become his arch-nemesis.
But his efforts to curb the powers of the HSYK have run into stiff opposition from rival political parties.
Turkey's main opposition party the Republican People's Party (CHP) on Thursday dismissed a new proposal submitted by the government to break the deadlock as "insincere".
The AKP measure initially called for the government to appoint members of HSYK but in the face of the outcry, it revised the proposals, suggesting instead that they be appointed by MPs in accordance with their representation in parliament.
President Abdullah Gul has been pushing for a compromise to ensure judicial reforms meet EU criteria and are enshrined in constitutional amendments that would require full cross-party support.
The AKP retains a comfortable majority despite several resignations from the party in the midst of the political crisis, with 320 seats in the 548-member house while the CHP has 134.