- POSTED: 14 Jan 2014 04:35
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Turkish leaders met on Monday to try to defuse a row over a controversial move by the government of embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to curb the powers of the judiciary.
ISTANBUL: Turkish leaders met on Monday to try to defuse a row over a controversial move by the government of embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to curb the powers of the judiciary.
The proposed legislation, seen by critics as a bid to head off a widening corruption probe that has rocked the government to its core, has come under fire from the domestic opposition as well as the European Union and the United States.
President Abdullah Gul has personally intervened to try to end the latest crisis to confront the government just weeks before the country goes to the polls in municipal elections in March.
But the government remained defiant, with Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc telling reporters after a cabinet meeting: "It is out of the question that the bill will be withdrawn."
Gul met Erdogan late on Monday after holding separate talks on the divisive legislation with the leaders of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party.
"This bill throws 90 years of democratic gains in the garbage," CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said after his meeting with Gul.
"We want a judiciary which operates under the orders of conscience not a political authority."
Erdogan, who has dominated the Turkish political scene for more than a decade, has seen his grip on power shaken by the graft scandal which has targeted several key allies.
Dozens of people including the sons of cabinet ministers, leading businessmen and civil servants were rounded up in a series of police raids since December.
Erdogan has responded by conducting a mass purge of the police and seeking to push through the bill that would increase government control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors.
Turkey's top judicial body, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), has branded the measure unconstitutional.
A debate by parliament's justice commission on the bill descended into a brawl on Saturday, with politicians throwing punches, water bottles and even an iPad.
The United States and the European Union have both voiced concern over the measure, with EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele calling for Ankara to ensure the proposals are in line with the principles of EU legislation.
"Not right for EU to criticise bill before parliament"
But Arinc dismissed the EU stance, saying the bloc should understand how the system operates in Turkey.
"Would it be bad if there is a mechanism that could inspect its (the judiciary's) unlawful activities?" he said.
"It is not right for the EU to make any statement or voice criticism about a proposal that is being discussed in Turkey's parliament."
Erdogan, who took office in 2003 with a pledge to rid Turkey of endemic corruption, has described the graft probe as a "dirty" plot against his Islamic-rooted government by an erstwhile ally.
Analysts say the crisis is the result of a falling-out between Erdogan and Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in US exile but whose supporters wield considerable influence in the police and judiciary.
The escalating tensions have also exposed a rivalry between Erdogan and Gul, also a once close ally, ahead of a presidential election in August.
Observers say Erdogan is setting his sights on the presidency, currently a largely ceremonial role, hoping to change the constitution to give the post US-style executive powers.
But the judicial crisis has also highlighted the failure of parliament last year to reach agreement on a new constitution to replace a charter drawn up by post-coup military rulers in 1980.
Worst crisis since June protests
"Maybe the reason for the current debates is the fact that the constitutional reform has not been carried out on time," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in Ankara.
"I hope we will have a charter based on common justice, democracy and citizenship and on which everyone is in agreement."
Several demonstrations have been staged since December to demand Erdogan's resignation, with police on occasion firing plastic bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters.
It is the worst crisis confronting Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) since June, when mass anti-government street protests were staged across the country.
Gul, who is expected either to be re-elected or be the next prime minister should Erdogan become president, has repeatedly spoken out in support of judicial independence.
Commentators say the president, who is seen as closer to Gulen, is likely to veto the judicial bill but does not want to openly position himself against Erdogan, hence the round of meetings Monday.