Erdoğan calls critics, civil movements ‘traitors,’ threatens investors

Date posted: January 28, 2014

Faced with massive corruption scandals, embattled Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ratcheted up his rhetoric further on Tuesday, as he started attacking opposition parties, the judiciary, the corporate world, the media, civic groups and what he called international dark circles even more aggressively.

Speaking at his party’s parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, Erdoğan catalogued a long list of enemies that he said are targeting his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government in the name of investigating corruption, accusing these groups of trying to steal the “national will” of Turkey.

“Despite all these efforts that amount to treason, the Turkish economy has continued to grow with stability,” Erdoğan said, accusing Turkey’s enemies of trying to sink a ship that sails with 76 million people by wholesale targeting of the economy.

Turkey’s most powerful business group, the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSİAD), was not spared Erdoğan’s hostile discourse, as he once again accused TÜSİAD of treachery.

“You should not be able to find a business organization that runs a smear campaign against its own country [anywhere] in the world,” Erdoğan said, labeling these efforts as treason. He vowed that foreign capital will continue to come to Turkey despite TÜSİAD’s efforts.

The prime minister’s relentless attacks on TÜSİAD come on the heels of last week’s strong warning from the business group’s president, Muharrem Yılmaz, who said that foreign investment will not be made in a country in which there is no respect for the rule of law, where legal codes conflict with European Union rules, public procurement laws have been amended dozens of times and companies are pressured through tax fines.

Speaking at a party rally in Ankara on Friday, Erdoğan lashed out at the TÜSİAD head for what he says portrays a negative picture of the Turkish economy. “Saying that foreign direct investment will not be made in Turkey is treachery,” Erdoğan said as he took aim at the business group and its president.

On Tuesday, Erdoğan escalated his rhetoric against TÜSİAD, saying that if the group does not stop complaining about Turkey to the international audience, he will do what is required.

“Their accounting books have never been audited. Now that they will be checked, they’ve become jumpy. We will hold them accountable if there are irregularities,” he said, stressing that big capital must behave properly.

Turkey’s competition watchdog, the Competition Board (RK), recently ruled that the Turkish Petroleum Refineries Corporation (TÜPRAŞ), one of Turkey’s largest oil distributors, must pay TL 412 million in fines for abusing its pricing monopoly. Owned by Koç Holding, TÜPRAŞ was slapped with the fine in an example of what the opposition claimed are Erdoğan’s scare tactics focusing on big conglomerates that do not support his government.

Main opposition Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) deputy Hurşit Güneş said on Monday that the Finance Ministry has targeted Koç group’s companies, levying fines for TL 608 million in total. “The prime minister is exerting pressure on companies that do not support him,” Güneş said.

After Erdoğan came up with the accusation of treachery, TÜSİAD President Yılmaz harshly criticized the prime minister over the language he used and said that no one could question his patriotism.

“I was shocked and very saddened by the prime minister’s remarks. I have worked for this country my entire life. I represent a business association which contributes greatly to the Turkish economy,” said Yılmaz during a televised interview last week.

Erdoğan continues to bash the media

Tuesday’s speech also saw Erdoğan’s severe criticism of both the national and international media, which he accused of running a smear campaign against his government.

Without naming Hurriyet, the second largest daily in Turkey, Erdoğan recalled a first page story that reported the remarks of the main opposition leader and he attacked its owner, Aydın Doğan, a media mogul who has interests in other economic fields, as well. He accused Doğan of going after the government because the İstanbul Municipality had not issued a building permit to make the renovations and additions to the hotel’s premises that Doğan wanted to make, a charge that was previously denied by Doğan.

This was not the first time Erdoğan singled out Doğan, as he publicly attacked him in 2008 when newspapers belonging to Doğan published news stories alleging Erdoğan’s involvement in a case of fraud related to a Turkish charity based in Germany, Deniz Feneri (Lighthouse).

Members of the international media were also on Erdoğan’s target list on Tuesday as he bashed the Wall Street Journal and the British network BBC for articles on Turkey and interviewing Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, whom Erdoğan accuses of being a contractor of international conspiracy groups.

“Was it only the BBC?” he asked, in response to a slogan shouted from a supporter who claimed the BBC does not pay attention these allegations made by Erdoğan. “The Wall Street Journal [as well],” Erdoğan said, asking, “Who are the owners of this newspaper?”

In response to these accusations, Wall Street Journal Istanbul Bureau Chief Joe Parkinson said the paper has not received a positive response from Erdoğan when asked for an interview. “I should say that the Wall Street Journal’s interview request with Erdoğan is still pending. Would love to talk to the prime minister, but have not been given an audience since 2010,” he wrote in his Twitter account.

Erdoğan also claimed that the same dark international circles had tried to do the same thing in the United Kingdom and that UK Prime Minister David Cameron immediately shut down the newspapers. He did not elaborate on these claims.

“Now they have started hitting from the US,” he emphasized.

On Monday, the New York Times said in an editorial that Erdoğan’s recent controversial policies are driving the country toward an authoritarian state, a development that not only spells trouble for the Turkish people but also for Ankara’s allies in NATO and which imperils Turkey’s EU bid.
Warning for the EU and the judiciary

Talking about his official visit to Brussels last week, his first visit to Brussels in five years, Erdoğan said on Tuesday that he warned EU leaders of disinformation and misunderstandings about the Dec. 17 graft probe.

He criticized the EU for getting one-sided information and underlined that he had asked EU leaders to get an independent analysis of developments in Turkey.

“We reminded them that our European Union ministry is the primary source of information for the EU,” he said.

Erdoğan earlier described his meetings in Brussels as productive, adding that he told his contacts there that the probe is unrelated to corruption and that it is in reality an attempt to sabotage democracy, the economy, Turkey’s foreign policy and the settlement process, in particular.

News website EUobserver, which specializes in EU affairs, reported that the prime minister struck a very different tone in Brussels in his comments on the graft probe.

“He refrained from the kind of rhetoric he uses at home — that the corruption allegations are a plot by Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic guru living in the US, and the US intelligence agency, the CIA, to weaken Turkey,” the EUobserver said last week.

“But he alluded to the conspiracy theory, saying ‘some groups’ are trying to spread ‘negative approaches toward our country,’” the EUobserver continued.

Erdoğan dropped his cautious rhetoric on Tuesday however, also slamming the judiciary and daring its members to establish a political party if they want to challenge his rule at the ballot box.

As he continued attacking the Turkish judiciary for running corruption investigations that have implicated senior people in the ruling party and his close relatives, Erdoğan said, “Nobody should dare to say that the political authority is interfering in the judiciary.” He said the judiciary cannot dictate policy to the government on the fight with terror, on Syria or the prep school issue. Erdoğan claimed that the judiciary became independent in the 2010 public referendum but is not impartial.

The corruption investigation became public on Dec. 17 following a wave of detentions. In what was widely perceived as a government attempt to stymie the probe, thousands of police officers and over a hundred prosecutors and judges have since been reassigned or demoted, and the government has introduced a controversial bill to restructure the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the body in charge of appointing senior judges and prosecutors.
Gülen targeted again

Moving on down the list of usual suspects highlighted by Erdoğan to distract public attention from the damaging corruption scandals, the prime minister once again used what many see as hateful speech against the Hizmet movement, which he has accused of orchestrating a sweeping corruption investigation that has implicated members of his inner circle.

The Hizmet movement is a volunteer-based grassroots movement particularly working in the field of education around the world and aims to spread interfaith dialogue, as inspired by Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen.

In what seems to be an effort to drive a wedge between the leadership and the grassroots of the Hizmet movement, Erdoğan said that there are differences between the leaders of Hizmet and the members of the organization. “While the organization’s members at the grassroots level are displaying sincerity, its leaders have taken a different position,” he noted, accusing the leadership of conspiring with what he called international dark circles.

Erdoğan’s recent likening of the followers of the Hizmet movement to Hashashins, a group that reportedly used to assassinate people in 12th century Persia and Syria while under the influence of opium, irritated Hizmet followers across the board and prompted huge backlash from a number of civil society organizations.

Erdoğan has been trying to dodge the damaging impact of the corruption scandals by using Hizmet as a scapegoat. Gülen, an ardent supporter of transparency and accountability in government, was critical of Erdoğan government’s efforts to stall the corruption investigations. Speaking to the BBC on Monday, Gülen said that the massive corruption investigations that have shaken the government cannot be covered up no matter how hard the government tries to derail the probes — not even by blaming the scandal on what the prime minister has called the “parallel state,” a veiled reference to the Hizmet movement inspired by Gülen.

Neither were EU leaders convinced of Erdoğan’s conspiracy theories or the blame he placed on Hizmet for his corruption woes. Last week, during an exchange with Erdoğan in the European Parliament (EP), Hannes Swoboda, leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, accused Erdoğan of using the Hizmet movement to halt reforms, stressing that the prime minister had supported the movement a year ago and asked why he now saw the movement as a threat.

Graham Watson, the president of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party and the former chairman of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the EP also criticized Erdoğan for using hate speech against Hizmet.

“I think it is very unwise to use those words in any country. Because this is, in a sense, a kind of hate speech,” said Watson. “In a sense, it is the speech that will whip people up into a state of mind in which they might commit violent acts.”

Source: Todays Zaman , January 28, 2014

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