Recordings are "an attack on the Turkish Republic," Prime Minister says
Opposition party chief plays recordings, tells Erdogan to flee abroad or resign
The recordings were allegedly made amid a wide-reaching corruption investigation
In the conversations, two men discuss in detail how to hide money
Turkey’s Prime Minister made a full-throated denial Tuesday, denouncing telephone audio recordings that have exploded across Turkish social media and political circles like a bombshell.
The leader of one of the country’s main opposition parties, meanwhile, leaped onto the controversial recordings, playing them at an appearance before lawmakers.
The recordings appear to be wiretaps of a series of conversations allegedly between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his son, Bilal. The two men in the recordings discuss in detail how to hide vast amounts of money.
The recordings were allegedly made the day after a wide-reaching corruption investigation ensnared the sons of three Cabinet members. Bilal was questioned but never detained in the investigation.
“This is not an attack on Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of the AK Party, but an attack on the Turkish Republic,” the Prime Minister thundered Tuesday in a weekly speech to parliament members from his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
Erdogan labeled the audio recordings “immoral edited material.”
“They are listening to the government’s encrypted phones; that’s how low they have sunk,” Erdogan continued, denouncing a series of lobby groups that he has long accused of plotting to overthrow his government.
Erdogan has pledged to investigate corruption within his government. But the Prime Minister has also denounced implications that his family is involved in the scandal.
On Tuesday, protesters took to the streets in the wake of the scandal. Police in Istanbul used tear gas and water cannon to try to push protesters back.
Money matters discussed
In the phone conversations, the two men discuss in detail how to hide money and whom to give it to. At one point, one warns the other man to be cautious about talking on the phone.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, played the recordings at a speech before an assembly of CHP lawmakers.
“Either you take a helicopter and flee abroad or you resign,” Kilicdaroglu said.
Most mainstream Turkish television channels interrupted their live broadcast of Kilicdaroglu’s speech when he began playing audio of the alleged conversation between Erdogan and his son. They then resumed the broadcast after the audio recordings stopped playing.
Tensions with police and judiciary
Embarrassing recordings of private phone conversations have been emerging on the Internet on an almost weekly basis in Turkey, ever since police detained the Cabinet minsters’ sons and dozens of other businessmen and officials closely linked to Erdogan’s government on December 17.
The government denounced the investigations, saying they were part of a coup attempt by what Erdogan officials described as a “parallel state” established within the police force and the judiciary.
Thousands of police officers were removed from their posts after the corruption investigation that caught Erdogan’s administration by surprise.
The top prosecutors who led the investigation have also been stripped of their positions.
Meanwhile, the government has passed a highly controversial law that gives it direct control over the judiciary.
Erdogan’s administration has also tried to push through another piece of legislation that would give the government the power to shut down Internet sites without first obtaining a court order.
“We passed this new Internet law to get ahead of this blackmailing, these threats,” the Prime Minister said in his speech Tuesday.
Evidence of a power struggle
The turmoil that has rocked Turkey for the past two months is widely seen as a power struggle between Erdogan and a Muslim cleric who had long been one of his most powerful allies.
For years, a septuagenarian preacher living in self-imposed exile in the United States was seen as a strong supporter of Erdogan’s.
But Fethullah Gulen and his supporters have been engaged in an open political war with Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party since the corruption investigation.
The Prime Minister has lashed out against the Gulen group, likening its members to assassins.
Turks are expected to go to the polls in March in nationwide municipal elections.