The premier, who is touring Turkey to drum up support before local elections in March, defied his accusers over the detention for suspected graft of three cabinet ministers’ sons and the head of state-run Halkbank on Dec. 17.
On Friday, thousands of Turks demanding that Erdogan step down clashed with riot police in central Istanbul. The trouble recalled protests this year that began over development plans for the city’s Gezi Park but that broadened into complaints of authoritarianism under Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, also known as the AK Party.
“They said ‘Gezi’ and smashed windows. Now they say ‘corruption’ and smash windows. These conspiracies will not succeed,” Erdogan told a cheering crowd in western Manisa province. “Their concern is not corruption, law or justice. Their only concern is damaging this nation’s power.”
Erdogan’s allegations of a foreign hand in the affair have put the focus on Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who preaches from self-imposed exile in the United States and whose Gulen movement claims at least 1 million followers in Turkey, including senior police officials and judges.
Erdogan has hinted strongly that Gulen deserves blame in the scandal.
Gulen denies involvement in stirring up the graft case. But he regularly censures Erdogan, a former ally with whom he fell out in a dispute over control of an influential network of Turkish schools that prepare students for university exams.
In a vaguely phrased sermon uploaded to Gulen’s Web site over the weekend, the cleric likened the current situation to dark historical episodes when “the masses were the playthings of demagogues, put to sleep and awoken at will.”
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu appeared to seek common ground with Gulen, saying Sunday that the movement should credit Erdogan’s government for its achievements.
“We are praying with hope and understanding that what we did over the past 10 years will be seen and that our friends, our brothers, will search their souls,” Davutoglu told Turkish TV.
The crisis is unprecedented in Erdogan’s three terms in office.
Erdogan was forced to reshuffle his government last week and dismiss the three cabinet ministers whose sons were detained as part of the corruption investigation.
The scandal also has destabilized the Turkish economy, which has grown rapidly during Erdogan’s 11 years in office.
The case turned more personal last week when Turkish media published what appeared to be a preliminary summons for Bilal Erdogan, one of the premier’s two sons, to testify. Erdogan, who denies any wrongdoing, said that was an attempt to hurt him.
Meanwhile, Erdogan appears to be trying to shore up relations with the military.
Mustafa Elitas, a senior legislator in Erdogan’s party, said Turkey could change laws to allow the retrial of hundreds of military officers convicted of plotting to overthrow Erdogan.
Last week, Erdogan’s top political adviser, Yalcin Akdogan, suggested that those officers had been framed by groups within the judiciary that are now allegedly orchestrating the corruption probe against Erdogan’s allies.