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More arrests as power struggle racks Erdogan government in Turkey

By Gul Tuysuz, CNN
updated 4:02 PM EST, Sat December 21, 2013
  • Rhetoric around raids heats up
  • Analysts say the detentions indicate test of Erdogan power
  • Erdogan: Those supported by "dark circles" cannot change direction of Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey (CNN) -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a message for foreign diplomats as a political division deepens in the government: Be careful.

"Over the last couple days, ambassadors have been doing some provocative things," Erdogan said in a speech in Samsun on Saturday.

He didn't specify who or what, but the statement comes amid a deepening crisis spurred by a wide-ranging corruption investigation that has led to the detention of dozens.

Raids have swept up the sons of several government ministers and others with powerful connections. The detentions have sparked a strong response from Erdogan, who labeled them "a very, very dirty operation."

Erdogan's comments come amid a growing rivalry between his ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), and The Gulen, an Islamist movement believed to control portions of the judiciary and the police.

The Prime Minister hasn't said specifically who he thinks bears responsibility, but he's pointed a finger at "enthusiasts and planners abroad." Those responsible are uncomfortable with the ruling AK Party but, also, he said, with Turkey itself "gaining power."

While Erdogan's comments have contained few specifics, his was pointed in spelling out the consequences for the "provocative" behavior of unnamed ambassadors. "If you go outside the scope of your jobs," he warned, "we are not obligated to keep you in our country."

The U.S. Embassy, in response to the turmoil, tweeted: "The US has no involvement in the ongoing corruption operation." The embassy added, via Twitter, that it is committed to "friendship and cooperation" between the two countries.

Politics may underlie raids

The Gulen, or Hizmet movement, is led by Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric in self imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Gulen denied any involvement in the raids through a letter released by his legal representative in Turkey.

"The esteemed Fethullah Gulen has neither the smallest interest or concern for these investigations and the public servants who are carrying them out," said a statement issued by Gulen's lawyer on Thursday.

The Hizmet movement, the name preferred by Gulen's followers, has in the past thrown its support behind Erdogan's AKP. Over the last month, though, the two have been publicly at odds.

"It was a forced marriage and now it's an ugly divorce," said Ahmet Sik, a journalist who wrote a book on Gulen and his influence within the judiciary and the police force.

Growing tensions

Last month, Erdogan announced that he would shut down college admission tutorial centers, a big hit for the Gulenists who use the centers for revenue and recruitment. The move sparked a high-profile resignation. Hakan Sukur, an ex-footballer and Gulen follower, elected on the AKP party ticket to parliament resigned from the ruling party.

"This is all a judicial process, it would not be right for me to say anything until the outcome," Erdogan told reporters in the central city of Konya. But in a fiery speech he delivered he said, "Those who are receiving the support of financial circles and media cannot change the direction of this country. Those who are supported by dark circles from inside and outside the country cannot change the direction of Turkey."

Turkey is expected to hold local elections next year, and many analysts see the raids as a test of Erdogan's grip on power, especially after a turbulent year of unprecedented anti-government protests.

Gulen posted a video on his website accusing the government of ignoring real issues. "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 then may God bring fire to their houses," he said in the video.

CNN's Ivan Watson contributed to this report.

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