Europe voiced its concern about the independence of the judiciary in crisis-wracked Turkey as the government embarked on a new purge of the police and moved to curb the powers of the country’s top legal body.
In its strongest comments yet on the deepening corruption scandal, the EU warned that a wave of police sackings could undermine the investigations and called on the authorities to ensure any wrongdoing was looked into in a "transparent and impartial" manner.
The political turmoil has rocked Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government to its very core just weeks before local elections in March and has sent Turkish financial markets tumbling. In the latest development, 16 police chiefs in several major cities as well as the deputy head of national security were fired Wednesday.
The latest purge came just a day after the government fired 350 police in Ankara – bringing the total number sacked to over 700 since mid-December when the graft scandal broke.
And in a new twist to the increasingly complex power play, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) submitted a bill Tuesday seeking constitutional changes to restructure the top independent judicial body, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).
The crisis has raised questions about the political survival of the prime minister, arguably one of the most powerful figures in modern Turkey who took office in 2002 after years of government instability and an economic meltdown.
The Turkish government insisted it would overcome the crisis, which Erdogan has described as a "dirty" plot to topple his 11-year-old administration. He and his allies say the probe was instigated by supporters of exiled Muslim sheikh Fethullah Gulen who wield considerable influence in Turkey’s judiciary and police.
The crisis erupted in December when dozens of leading businessmen and political figures – including the sons of three ministers – were detained over alleged bribery in construction projects and illicit money transfers by a state-owned bank to sanctions-hit Iran.