Turkish Premier Blames United States for Turmoil
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
By TIM ARANGO
Published: December 21, 2013
ISTANBUL — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday continued his embrace of what has traditionally been the strategy of Turkish politicians facing a crisis: blame foreign powers, in this case the United States.
Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
Fethullah Gulen, an influential Sufi preacher and former close ally of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
European Pressphoto Agency
Istanbul’s police chief after his dismissal on Thursday.
On Saturday morning, four pro-government newspapers featured the American ambassador on their front pages, suggesting that the United States, a strong ally of Turkey, was behind an escalating corruption investigation that has ensnared several businessmen and others in the prime minister’s inner circle. One headline said, “Get out of this country.” Other media reports also suggested a plot by Israel.
Then in a series of speeches on Saturday, Mr. Erdogan threatened to expel foreign ambassadors for what he called “provocative actions.”
Mr. Erdogan did not specifically mention the United States, but referring to unnamed “ambassadors” he said, “We are not compelled to keep you in our country.”
“If our ambassadors in your countries were involved in these kinds of games, tell us,” he continued. “You do not need to send them away. We would take them back. We would take back our own ambassadors.”
In response to the newspaper headlines — but before Mr. Erdogan spoke — the American Embassy in Ankara, the Turkish capital, posted several messages in Turkish on its Twitter account.
“The United States has no involvement in the ongoing corruption probe,” one said.
“All allegations in news stories are lies and slander,” another said.
Trying to tamp down tensions with an important ally, a spokesman for Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday that the ministry had accepted the embassy’s statement as “sufficient,” and that there was no effort to expel the American ambassador, Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., or to summon him to a special meeting, as some Turkish media reports said Saturday.
The conspiracy theories advanced by the pro-government media — which resonate with certain segments of the population because both anti-American sentiments and anti-Semitism are widespread in Turkey — center on the fact that one of the targets of the investigation, the state-owned bank Halkbank, has in the past been accused by the United States of helping Iran evade sanctions over its nuclear program.
The widening inquiry has unfolded over several days and has quickly become a political crisis for Mr. Erdogan, perhaps the worst he has faced in more than a decade in power. Commentators and government officials have linked the investigation to a popular imam who lives in Pennsylvania, Fethullah Gulen, whose network of followers are said to have taken up high-level positions in the Turkish police and judiciary over the years.
Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Gulen, who represent different Islamic traditions in Turkey, were once allies, and they teamed up to push the military from politics through a series of trials that landed a number of generals and officers in prison in recent years.
Mr. Gulen, who rarely speaks to the news media, denied any involvement in the corruption case in a statement released by his lawyer last week. On Saturday, though, he released an emotionally charged video in which he appeared to denounce the government’s efforts against his supporters, raising the stakes in what has become an epic fight between the two former partners.
At times he waved his arms and in impassioned language said, “May those who don’t see the thief but go after those trying to catch the thief, who don’t see the murder but try to defame others by accusing innocent people — let God bring fire to their houses, ruin their homes, break their unities.”
Mr. Erdogan has simultaneously blamed foreigners — as he did during mass protests in the summer against what opponents called his government’s heavy-handed efforts to raze a park — and begun a purge of the police forces, removing dozens of officials said to be involved in the corruption investigation.
The inquiry has led to the detentions of dozens of businessmen and officials, as well as the sons of three cabinet ministers. On Saturday, the general manager of Halkbank, the sons of the interior and economy ministers, and 13 others were formally arrested in the case.
&lt;img src=”http://meter-svc.nytimes.com/meter.gif”/> Ceylan Yeginsu contributed reporting.
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