Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Update: The Latest On Turkey


The crisis in Turkey continues to foment, as Turkey's Islamist leader Tayyip Erdoğan continues to try and quash massive corruption scandals reaching the highest levels of his government, including Erdoğan himself.

Major unrest broke out in several Turkish cities,especially in Istanbul, where police used tear gas, water cannons, batons and plastic bullets to break up anti-Erdoğan demonstrations.

Turkey protests

As I reported previously, the rumor that Erdoğan had summarily removed prosecutors investigating the massive scandals and replaced them with Erdoğan loyalists is unfortunately true. Public prosecutor Muammer Akkas, who was overseeing the inquiry, was removed from the case. In a letter to the Turkish media he accused the government of actively hindering the investigation. "The judiciary was subjected to open pressure by the police force, and the execution of court orders was obstructed," he said.

What he was referring to was the wholesale transfer of police officers who were involved in the investigation and their replacement by cops loyal to Erdoğan and the AKP.That included Istanbul police chief Hüseyin Çapkin.

These new police officers refused to comply with the prosecutor's orders to take more suspects into custody, a list of 41 high-ranking businessmen and officials, according to the Turkish daily Hürriyet.There's also evidence that the Erdoğan informed the suspects which gave them an opportunity to destroy evidence or even to leave Turkey for awhile until the scandals blow over.

Erdoğan was forced to fire four high ranking cabinet ministers after their sons were arrested following a long-running investigation into allegations of corruption. Along with 22 others they're awaiting trial on charges including bribery, selling government assets at deep discounts to well-connected companies and illicit money transfers to Iran,among other things.

Erdoğan and his own family are implicated at well in a scandal concerning TÜRGEV, an Islamic educational foundation where Erdoğan's son Bilal sits on the board.The foundation claims they used money they received tax free to build dormitories for students,when in fact the money came from the Fatih district municipality, which is headed by an AKP mayor who's now also been jailed. What Erdoğan’s family did with the money they claimed was spent on the dormitory is unknown.

TÜRGEV is also suspect for receiving state-owned land free of charge or at a much lower price than the land was worth.

And Bilal Erdoğan is also implicated in the suspicious land worth $1 billion belonging to the Etiler Police Academy that was sold to a company called Bosphorus without a public tender for a giveaway price of $460 million. Questions about whom exactly is involved with Bosphorus or what Bilal's part in the transaction were have yet to be answered.

Today, Erdoğan announced yet another purge of Turkey's police force, with 350 police officers removed from their positions in the capital of Ankara on Tuesday and police commanders ousted from their posts in at least nine other cities around the country, the government Anadolu news agency reported.

According to the Turkish press, most of the police officers affected were working in departments that battle terrorism, smuggling and organized crime. The ones who weren't fired outright were reassigned to police traffic.

Another thing most of these police had in common were connections to Fethullah Gülen and the Hizmet movement, former Islamist allies of Erdoğan and the AKP but now a faction that has allied itself with other groups opposing Erdoğan's increasingly authoritarian and dictatorial rule. The break occurred after Erdoğan began working to eliminate the group's dershanes, prep schools that serve as a major source of money recruitment and influence for the Gülenists and ousting Gülenists in power.

The latest challenge to Erdoğan comes from two fronts. First, opposition calls to re-try members of the Turkish military who were convicted on trumped up evidence of plotting a coup against Erdoğan.

Erdoğan and the AKP essentially purged the military, which constitutionally was charged with protecting Turkey's secular government since the time of Ataturk and the founding of the modern Turkish republic after WWI. Two years ago, almost two hundred high ranking military officers and others, including journalists were convicted in what amounted to show trials of plotting to overthrow the government. The stench was so bad that a whole cadre of Turkish officers, including the commanders in chief of the army, navy and air force resigned.

Erdoğan, faced with calls for retrials by the opposition is said to be considering the idea of retrial, especially since thanks to his 'reforms' AKP loyalists now control the judiciary as well.But he faces a slight problem here. Erdoğan's standard line lately has been that the trials were conducted by his former allies in Hizmet. But he championed the trials, signed off on the outcomes and approved of the results.

So Erdoğan would be faced with admitting to the nation that he approved and supported something he knew was false if the officers are acquitted, or need to cease blaming Gülen and Hizmat if the verdicts stand.

The other problem Erdoğan has to deal with is a lot more basic. The Turkish economy is finally on the skids as the huge credit bubble that supported it is finally deflating, and the huge current-account deficit on large gas and oil imports is beginning to be felt. meanwhile, the Turkish stock market is plummeting and the Lira's value versus the dollar had almost been cut in half while th ecost of staples in increasing steadily.

Erdoğan and the AKP's major claim to power have been clean government and a growing economy. Both appear to be inflated and on shaky ground.

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