Turkey’s prime minister has rejected calls for him to step down, as protests continue across the country against a growing corruption scandal that has embroiled Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.
Speaking to a large rally of supporters in the western city of Manisa on Saturday, Erdogan brushed aside the fraud allegations, saying they were part of an international campaign to discredit the government.
“If there is corruption, how come [Turkey’s] $230bn GDP moved up to $800bn in 10 years since we got to power?” he said.
The prime minister said the government would not tolerate any corrupt officials, and urged his supporters to vote for his Justice and Development (AKP) party in elections scheduled for March.
In the capital Ankara on Saturday, about 4,000 people called for Erdogan to resign and chanted “May the thieves’ hands be broken”. No violence was immediately reported.
A day earlier, Turkish riot police used water cannons, tear gas and plastic bullets to push back hundreds of protesters in Istanbul and Ankara, in scenes reminiscent of the summer’s mass anti-government demonstrations.
Twenty-four people, including the sons of two former government ministers and the head of the state-owned financial institution, Halkbank, have been arrested on bribery charges.
Media reports say the corruption probe is over alleged illicit money transfers to Iran and bribery for construction projects.
Reporting from Istanbul, Al Jazeera’s Omar Al Saleh said the corruption scandal may deepen since some reports have suggested that another wave of investigations will implicate 40 more people, including some government officials.
“The bottom line of all of this is that the local elections in March will be the test for the prime minister and the popularity of his ruling AKP party,” our correspondent said.
Three Turkish legislators, including a former minister, from the AKP resigned on Friday over the scandal and accused the government of putting pressure on the judiciary.
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.
On Saturday, a prominent Turkish editorialist wrote an open letter to Erdogan warning him to end his feud with the judiciary. “This crisis will destroy not only you… It will destroy all of us,” Ahmet Hakan wrote in the Hurriyet daily.