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Thousands protest corruption in Turkey

At least 20,000 people gather in capital Ankara to protest against government after latest corruption probe.

Last updated: 11 Jan 2014 19:49
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Demonstrators said they had to come to stand against corruption and for justice in their country [Reuters]

At least 20,000 demonstrators have taken to the streets of Turkey's capital Ankara in protest against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, which has been rocked by a vast corruption probe.

The government also signalled it may back down on a contentious bid to curb the judges' powers as fierce scuffles erupted in a parliament commission ahead of a second round of debate over the draft bill.

As Erdogan arrived home on Saturday after a week-long tour to Asia, the protesters gathered at Ankara's major Sihhiye Square, chanting "revolution will clean this filth" and "they are thieves".

Some protesters were also handing out fake dollars with Erdogan's photo on them.

The corruption scandal implicating close allies of Erdogan has rattled his government to its core, and poses the biggest challenge to his 11-year rule.

It erupted on December 17, when several public figures, including high-profile businessmen and the sons of three ministers, were detained over allegations of bribery for construction projects as well as illicit money transfers to sanctions-hit Iran.

Forced into a major cabinet reshuffle after the three ministers resigned, the prime minister has responded angrily to the probe, calling it a "dirty plot" to discredit his government.

He repositioned hundreds of police chiefs in a major purge and has moved to curb the powers of the judiciary.

Cleric blamed

Erdogan's government, in power since 2002, has accused loyalists of US-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose movement wields influence in the police and judiciary, of instigating the corruption probe.

Lami Ozgen, one of the protest leaders, said the scandal shed light on the true face of both the government and the Gulen movement.

We are no way trusting the obsessive behaviour of the judiciary

Pro-government daily Sabah

"The crisis has made it known to the public how those who abuse religion and faith, are fond of wealth, luxury and splendour, how they worship money and how they see bribery as their direction to Mecca," Ozgen said.

Gulen was a major supporter of Erdogan's ruling AKP party when it first came to power in 2002.

But the two have parted ways after the government moved to shut down a network of private schools run by the movement.

Turkey's justice minister said the government may abandon a reform package which would give it more powers over the appointment of judges and prosecutors.

"If political party groups come together and reach a consensus, the proposal could be halted," local media quoted Bekir Bozdag as saying.

Escalating tensions 

The AKP moved to tighten its grip over the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, which was slapped down by the top judicial body itself as unconstitutional and sparked criticism from the United States and the European Union.

Scuffles broke out ahead of a second round of debate on the proposals in parliament's justice commission on Saturday, with local media reporting that politicians threw punches, water bottles and an iPad.

Opposition parties demand that the AKP abandon the bill but Bozdag earlier said the proposed reforms would not be withdrawn.

Erdogan has lashed out at a "judicial coup", accusing prosecutors running the case of plotting to undermine him and his government.

"Why is the judiciary doing this? They have no reason other than treason," pro-government Sabah daily quoted him saying.

"We are no way trusting the obsessive behaviour of the judiciary".

The escalating tensions have also revealed the rivalry between Erdogan and his former ally President Abdullah Gul ahead of presidential elections in August.

Gul, who is expected either to be re-elected or be the next prime minister should Erdogan become president, has so far adopted a conciliatory approach toward the crisis and commentators say he will be in a dilemma if the controversial bill comes his way.

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