Turkey: Preesident Gul in Rome amid corruption scandal

Premier Erdogan under fire from opposition and imam Gulen

29 January, 09:43

    (by Francesco Cerri) ANKARA, JANUARY 29 - Turkish head of State Abdullah Gul on Tuesday night arrived in Rome to start a four-day visit to Italy while the political climate in Istanbul and Ankara is getting increasingly sour over Turkey's sweeping corruption scandal which involves the government of Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

    The co-founder and moderate face today of the Islamic Akp party, which has been ruling the country since 2002, he is increasingly distant from Erdogan, dubbed the 'sultan'. Ever since the beginning of the scandal, Gul has sought to bridge the distance between government and opposition - so far unsuccessfully.

    The premier has rejected corruption charges denouncing 'an attempted coup' led by former allies with the Islamic Izmet brotherhood led by preacher Fetullah Gulen, financial players and foreign powers. In order to cover up the investigations, which also involved his son Bilal, he has removed 5,000 police chiefs and officers and 120 magistrates including prosecutors in charge of the probes, the opposition has denounced. Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu says Erdogan 'is ready for anything' to cover up investigations and hold on to power. Such a strategy is a source of concern for the US and EU.

    Once considered the leader of a role model Islamic democracy, according to the New York Times, he has caused a political disaster in his country, turning Turkey into an authoritarian State which is a danger not only for itself but also for its NATO allies, including the US.

    In a rare television interview, imam Gulen, who lives in the US, told the BBC that nobody has the power to cover up the Turkish corruption scandal. Gulen told the BBC in his first broadcast interview in 16 years that there is no doubt about corruption in the country and that everybody - from regular people to the educated and elite - are aware of what is going on.

    Relations between Gul and Gulen - who has been accused by Erdogan of being the leader of a new 'sect of assassins' - relations remain calm. After the scandal broke out, the preacher wrote to the president to try and ease tensions. But for Erdogan the battle is in full swing. He has little time ahead of key administrative elections on March 30 and, most importantly, the battle to win mayoral elections in Istanbul which Erdogan risks losing. And a defeat could influence his political future. The 'sultan' is not hiding the fact that he would like to become Gul's successor after presidential elections in August. The opposition leader said last year he would be ready to back the outgoing president in the race but Gul has not declared yet whether he intends to run.

    The president and premier could possibly exchange posts - along the Putin-Medvedev model . But August is still far away.

    The lira has been plunging over the past month and after a decade-long economic boom the specter of a 'Spanish-style' crisis is looming large.

    Despite attempts to cover up the scandal, new accusations are emerging on a daily basis. On Tuesday, Kilicdaroglu, pointed his finger directly at Erdogan, asking him for an explanation regarding two villas close to Smyrna which an entrepreneur allegedly gave to him as a present and 100 million dollars given to the Turgev foundation of his son Bilal.

    A survey published on Tuesday by the online edition of Zaman showed that 60.5% of Turks polled backed anti-corruption prosecutors (including 39% of Erdogan voters) and confidence in the premier fell to 39% from the 71% recorded two years ago.

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