Turks in the conservative Istanbul district where Recep Tayyip Erdogan grew up stood defiantly by their prime minister on Wednesday in the face of a voice recording purportedly of him warning his son to hide large sums of money.
“A shameless montage,” read headlines in the pro-government Yeni Safak and Sabah newspapers, echoing Erdogan’s condemnation of the recordings, which he blamed on a network run by a former Islamist ally cleric Fethullah Gulen.
“The recording which is shaking Turkey,” read a headline in the liberal Radikal daily. “Flee or resign,” said the secularist Cumhuriyet, quoting the main opposition leader.
Rising political tension has hit Turkish financial markets, but the lira and shares were firmer on Wednesday. The recording has triggered street protests, but on a much smaller scale than anti-government demonstrations last summer.
Erdogan has pushed laws through parliament tightening control of the judiciary and Internet.
The unicameral Grand National Assembly approved adjustments to the Internet law overnight, addressing President Abdullah Gul’s concerns about the tighter restrictions.
On Wednesday, Gul approved the judiciary law, deferring to the Constitutional Court on some elements in the legislation that the main opposition CHP has vowed to challenge in the court.
The US-based Gulen, through his lawyer, has described the accusation of complicity in the tapes as unjust and contributing to an atmosphere of “hatred and enmity” in Turkish society.
Meanwhile, a new report by Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and former terrorism finance analyst at the US Department of the Treasury, titled “Terrorism Finance in Turkey: A Growing Concern,” says that Ankara has been turning “a blind eye to the flow of money and weaponry to dangerous jihadi groups, including al-Qaida.”
It points out that Turkey has been helping Iran avoid sanctions through a “gas-for-gold” arrangement.
In addition, Erdogan has been meeting with leaders of Hamas in Ankara. Hamas official Saleh Aruri resides in Turkey and has been running financial logistic operations for the group, states the report.
“There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the AKP government in Turkey has fostered political and financial ties to Iran, Hamas, Syrian jihadi groups and even accused al-Qaida financiers,” Schanzer told The Jerusalem Post.
“What this means for Turkish- American ties is not yet clear.
Washington appears reticent to raise these issues publicly, but it is only a matter of time before the news headlines prompt a reckoning,” he said. “There is simply too much evidence to ignore.”
Turkey’s ties to terrorism-sponsoring states and terrorist groups needs to be publicized “while there is still an opportunity to address the problem through bilateral cooperation,” Schanzer said.
If the issue is not dealt with in this way, relations could fray if Washington designates Turkish entities as supporting terrorism, he said.
Referring to the phone recordings, Erdogan said they were fake and blamed the “robot lobby” of plotting against the government through Twitter messages.
Speaking at his party’s parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, he said that a number of lobbies had allied to damage the ruling AK Party.
“The robot lobby that they set up on social media hits with tweets. They tell them to increase the number of tweets,” he said, Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News reported. During Gezi Park protests last summer he called Twitter a “troublemaker.”
Erdogan also spoke about a “preacher’s lobby,” referring to Gulen and his Hizmet movement.
“They prepared a flawless scenario. The preacher’s lobby would hit through the police and judiciary. The media lobby would hit with headlines and broadcasts. The interest rate lobby would make a fuss that the economy was deteriorating. The international lobby would hit by condemning and criticizing,” Erdogan said.
Wiretapped phone conversations between himself and his son were leaked on the Internet on Monday and have become big news in Turkey. The conversations date to December 17, the day the corruption investigation broke.
According to the recordings, Erdogan called his son Bilal to order him to remove large amounts of cash from his home with the help of close relatives.
Later in the day, Bilal told his father that there still was around €30 million at his home.
“The prime minister should resign. The prime minister, who remains crushed by claims of corruption and theft, should immediately resign. Turkey cannot continue on its path with this dirt, this burden,” Haluk Koç, spokesman of the main opposition CHP, told a press conference on Monday evening, Today’s Zaman reported.
On Tuesday, the executive board of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) met and party chairman Devlet Bahceli said the revelations were “mind-blowing” and called for an investigation of the prime minister.
Erdogan called the report of the phone recording a “vile attack against the prime minister” and said, “It is very interesting; they even tap the state’s cryptic phones from there. A president cannot speak with a prime minister without being wiretapped at an instant.
“We will bring legal action against these [wiretapping] activities.
If we let it go on, there will be no privacy for families, nor for the state in this country,” he said.
“These [wiretapping] activities. If we let it go on, there will be no privacy for families, nor for the state in this country,” Hurriyet reported.