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Protests

Anti-government protesters clash with Turkish riot police

Turkish police have clashed with protesters demanding that the government step down, amid a growing corruption scandal. The German foreign minister has urged Turkey to swiftly address the allegations.

Protesters back on Istanbul's Taksim Square

Riot police used water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets in an effort to disperse hundreds of anti-government protesters who had gathered in both Istanbul and the capital, Ankara, on Friday.

Some of the protesters threw rocks or firecrackers at the police and chanted "stop the thief," in reference to the corruption scandal that has seen several members of Prime Minister Erdogan's government resign over the past couple of days.

Friday's clashes followed a ruling handed down by the Council of State, Turkey's top administrative court, earlier in the day, which blocked a government decree that had sought to require that police officers inform their superiors before launching any investigations.

The Ankara-based court found that the decree "contradicts the principle of the separation of powers."

Erdogan's critics accused him of introducing the measure in an effort to try to stifle an ongoing corruption investigation.

Raids result in dozens of arrests

The affair became public following raids conducted on December 17 that resulted in the arrests of dozens of people, including the sons of three cabinet ministers, each of whom subsequently stepped down.

The investigation centers on the state-run lender Halkbank and alleged bribery involving public tenders, gold smuggling and circumventing international sanctions for dealings with Iran.

Erdogan's government suffered a further blow on Friday with the resignations of three more lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), who had been threatened with expulsion for publicly criticizing the government.

Erdogan has dismissed the corruption investigation as a conspiracy against his government. In response to Friday's court ruling blocking his decree, Erdogan said his government would do "whatever is necessary."

He also used a speech to a large crowd of supporters in Istanbul to accuse the lawmakers who had quit the AKP over the scandal of having "betrayed us along our journey."

EU calls for transparency

The European Union, meanwhile, called for the corruption allegations to be addressed transparently.

"I urge Turkey, as a candidate country committed to the political criteria of [EU] accession ... to take all the necessary measures to ensure allegations of wrongdoing are addressed without discrimination or preference in a transparent and impartial manner," EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle said.

He also welcomed the Ankara court's ruling, saying that if implemented, the government decree would have "undermined the independence of the judiciary and its capacity to act."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that stability in Turkey would provide a vital "anchor" for the region.

"In the Middle East, which is marked by crises and conflicts, a Turkey that is steady internally and externally is needed as a stable anchor," Steinmeier said.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt used Twitter to urge Turkey, as an EU candidate, to return to "EU-inspired structural and democratic reforms."

pfd, jr/av (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)

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