Gulen to Erdogan: You’re 10 times worse than army
ANKARA - An influential Muslim cleric locked in a bitter feud with the Turkish government has said the pressure piled on his movement now is "10 times worse" than in the era of military coups, in a rare interview published Monday.
US-exiled Fethullah Gulen stands accused by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of using his influence in Turkey's police and judiciary to instigate a corruption probe to topple his Islamic-rooted government.
"What we are seeing today is 10 times worse than what we saw during the military coups," Gulen told the daily Zaman, affiliated with his movement.
Gulen's Hizmet (Service) movement used to be an important backer of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), which came to power in 2002.
The two worked together to curb the influence of the army, the self-declared guardians of the secular state, which staged three coups since 1960 and forced out an Islamist government in 1997.
But the alliance shattered in mid-December, when dozens of the premier's political and business allies were detained in police raids on bribery and corruption allegations.
The scandal, which brought down four ministers and prompted a cabinet reshuffle, has evolved into the most serious challenge yet to Erdogan's 11-year-rule.
The premier has labelled the corruption probe a "dirty plot" by supporters of the cleric to undermine his government ahead of local elections on March 30 and a presidential vote in August, but Gulen has repeatedly denied any involvement.
Erdogan himself has been implicated in the corruption controversy with leaked recordings in which he can allegedly be heard talking to his son about hiding large sums of money.
Erdogan has responded to the graft probe by publicly attacking Gulen and sacking hundreds of police and prosecutors believed to be linked to his ally-turned-rival.
The AKP-dominated parliament has also passed a law to shut down a network of private preparatory schools, many of which are run by Hizmet and are a major source of income for the movement.
"We face similar treatment (as during the military coups) but at the hands of civilians who we think follow the same faith as us," Gulen said, recalling how he and his followers were harassed by the authorities after the 1980 army coup.
"All we can do is say 'This, too, shall pass,' and to remain patient," he added. "Aggressors will be turned upside down when they least expect it."
Gulen has been living in self-imposed exile in the US state of Pennsylvania since 1999 to escape charges of plotting against the secular state by the then-government.
His Hizmet movement is thought to have millions of followers and funds schools, think tanks and media outlets.