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Turkey

Erdogan cracks down on Gulen movement

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has accused leaders of the Gulen movement of plotting against him. As Erdogan tries to crack down on the alleged conspiracy, he teams up with his former foes in the military.

Hüseyin Gülerce saw the writing on the wall a few days ago when he told Turkish newspaper "Zaman" a storm was coming. The 63-year-old journalist is part of the Gulen movement, as is "Zaman." His prediction proved correct: Within a couple of days, the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has removed several hundred police officers and replaced them with loyal followers. There is no civil servant who took part in the prosecutors' corruption probe who has remained at his post.

The Gulen movement, led by Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, is one of the most influential Islamic movements in Turkey. It has attracted a wide array of followers in Turkey, but it's also been criticized for promoting an Islamist agenda through its private schools based in 140 countries.

The government has acted on the presumption that both the police and Turkey's judiciary have been infiltrated by the Gulen movement. Erdogan and his supporters talk about "parallel structures" in Turkey's state apparatus and say these people were trying to topple the government. Reshuffling state employees was meant to break up these structures. Two leading prosecutors involved with the corruption probe were removed from the case. Istanbul prosecutor and supporter of the Gulen movement Zkeriya Oz is being investigated as he allegedly had information on the corruption scandal but waited six months before having suspects taken into custody.

Undemocratic handling

Erdogan's supporters suspect Oz didn't arrest anyone earlier in order to make the government look bad after being at odds with the Gulen movement for months. Gulen had supported the Islamic-conservative government for years and especially helped in pushing back the military's political influence. But in recent times, the former allies clearly don't get along anymore.

Fethullah Gulen (photo: AP Photo/Zaman)

Fethullah Gulen used to be a supporter of Erdogan

A high-ranking member of the Gulen movement told DW that the government's reaction to demonstrations at Gezi Park last summer upset Gulen supporters. Erdogan's crackdown on demonstrators was showcasing "undemocratic handling" of criticism from within society, he said, adding that Erdogan had increasingly turned into an authoritarian leader.

Such criticism is unlikely to bother Erdogan. He intends to win local elections on March 30 and presidential elections in the summer by bringing together the conservative camp and clearly setting it apart from other groups. But that's contrary to the dialogue the Gulen movement has tried to promote. The movement has turned into an enemy that Erdogan intends to fight. And the fight has just begun.

Blaming the Gulen movement

Gulen supporters have made it onto the government's list of public enemies. The government holds them responsible for serious and unwelcome developments in recent years. Surprisingly, one of the developments Erdogan's supporters blames on the Gulen movement is the arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of former generals convicted of attempting to carry out a coupe against Erdogan.

Turkish flags are flown in front of the court of Antalya (Photo: Ilker Akgungor/Getty Images)

Erdogan wants to control Turkey's judiciary, the opposition says

An advisor to Erdogan recently implied it could have been prosecutors tied to the Gulen movement who had wrongfully issued verdicts against the generals. One of these involuntarily reassigned prosecutors was Zekeriya Oz. The government is currently looking into ways to reopen the generals' cases.

The government wanted to make it look like the Gulen movement orchestrated the convictions of the generals, said Riza Türmen, a former judge of the European Court of Human Rights and opposition member of parliament of the Republican People's Party (CHP). They wanted to spin the recent corruption cases on the Gulen movement as well.

At the same time, Erdogan was planning to implement stricter controls on Turkey's judiciary, the opposition said. An initial draft is expected to be introduced to parliament by the end of this week. Erdogan was far from taking responsibility for corruption under his reign, CHP politician Ugur Bayraktutan told DW, "The prime minister would have stepped down in a heartbeat in a Western country."

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