Three Turkish legislators, including a former minister, from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have resigned and accused the Turkish government of putting pressure on the judiciary, as a widening corruption scandal continues to grip the country.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party is being directed by “arrogance,” former Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay said in a news conference on Friday announcing his resignation, adding that he was parting ways with the AKP.
The resignations came after the Council of State, an Ankara court that rules on administrative issues, rejected an attempt by the government to force police officers to disclose the results of investigations to their superiors.
The government’s efforts to control police investigations amounted to “a clear breach of the principle of the separation of powers, and of the constitution,” said the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors on Thursday, a day before the ruling.
Twenty-four people, including the sons of two ministers and a state-owned bank’s chief were arrested last week as part of an investigation into corruption in Turkey.
The revelations have led to a new outpouring of anger against Erdogan’s government.
On Friday, riot police fired water cannons, tear gas and plastic bullets to break up rallies of hundreds of anti-government demonstrators in Istanbul, Izmir, and the capital, Ankara.
Police blocked hundreds of protesters from gathering in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square and pushed them away to the nearby streets.
“The police here outnumbers the protesters,” Al Jazeera’s Omar Al Saleh reported from Istanbul. “But the chants were clear: ‘Bribery is everywhere and corruption is everywhere’. They want the prime minister to resign.”
Erdogan continued to ignore the demands to step down, however.
“Those who call it a corruption inquiry are corrupt themselves,” he told a large crowd of his supporters on Friday as he returned to Istanbul from a political rally in the northwest.
Erdogan also criticised lawmakers who quit his party because of the scandal, saying they “betrayed us along our journey”.
The suspects in the probe are accused of accepting and facilitating corruption in tenders, money laundering and bribery to secure construction permits for protected areas, the Turkish media reported. More than $4.5m had been seized at raids on the suspect’s houses.
Erdogan called the investigation a “dirty operation” to smear his administration and undermine the country’s progress.
Since the scandal erupted, the government has removed dozens of police officers, including the head of the police force in Istanbul, fuelling accusations of an attempted cover up.
On Thursday, a Turkish public prosecutor said that he was prevented from doing his job, hours after he was removed from the investigation.
Muammer Akkas was removed by Oktay Erdogan, the Istanbul deputy chief public prosecutor, on the grounds that Akkas violated the confidentiality of the investigation, Turkish media reports said.
In a statement right after he was removed on Thursday, Akkas said that Turkey’s public “should be aware that I, as public prosecutor, have been prevented from implementing an investigation”.