Erdogan praises crackdown on enemies

(MENAFN- The Peninsula) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday praised the "clean" legal process against his opponents that has been sharply criticised by the EU and included a warrant for arch-foe Fethullah Gulen as well as a wave of arrests.

The crackdown is seen by opponents as the latest act of authoritarian excess by Erdogan, who in August moved to the post of president after over a decade as prime minister.

But in a speech in Istanbul, Erdogan denied there had been any "lynching" of opponents and said the arrests were linked to a "coup plot" led by Gulen aimed at ousting him from power.

"I have been watching this process closely as president of this country. Everything is lawful and in line with procedure ... a really diligent and clean process is going on at the moment," Erdogan said in the televised speech.

"The police and judiciary are not repeating the mistakes of the past," he added.

Erdogan defended the detention of journalists as part of the probe, saying that some were using the profession as a "mask" for other activities.

He argued that the detention of journalists was nothing unusual, referring to the arrests in Britain over the phone-tapping scandal that rocked the tabloid press there.

His comments came a day after an Istanbul court issued an arrest warrant for the US-based Gulen, who Erdogan accuses of running a "parallel state" from his exile in the US state of Pennsylvania.

A court on Friday also remanded in custody on terrorism charges the head of the pro-Gulen Samanyolu TV, Hidayet Karaca, and three police officers, although the editor-in-chief of the equally pro-Gulen Zaman newspaper, Ekrem Dumanli, was freed.

Seven other suspects were released pending trial.

"God willing, no one will remember the era of the organisation of the assassins," Erdogan said, using one of his favoured terms for Gulen's group.

Dumanli - who is not allowed to leave Turkey and is still set to face trial - returned to his offices at the Zaman newspaper headquarters to a hero's welcome from hundreds of employees who shouted press freedom slogans, Samanyolu television pictures showed.

It remains doubtful that Washington will show any inclination to extradite Gulen, who has lived in the United States since 1999, to face trial in Turkey.

Gulen's movement, usually known as Hizmet (Service), has millions of followers and has built up a lucrative and influential international network of private cramming schools.

Supporters see the Gulen movement as a modern and forward-thinking Islamic-rooted group although some critics claim it has the makings of a cult.

The detention of 30 people last weekend on raids on journalists, scriptwriters and police deemed close to Gulen was sharply criticised by the EU, who in turn aroused Erdogan's own ire.

"Turkey is not the EU's doorman," Erdogan said in the speech, sarcastically noting that the bloc had rushed to make its criticism in the Christmas holiday period while it had "kept Turkey waiting at the door for 50 years".

He accused the international press of "latching on" to the EU campaign against Turkey, one day after the New York Times in a tough editorial accused Erdogan of being an "authoritarian leader living in a parallel universe".

Erdogan's heated rhetoric against the EU adds to existing problems for the long-stalled membership bid of Turkey, already held up by disputes over Cyprus and human rights.

He said Turkey had taken in 1.7 million Syrian refugees from the conflict at a cost of $5.5bn but bitterly complained that Ankara had only received $200m in help from the EU.

"When it comes to money, this is their god," he said.

In the capital Ankara, dozens of demonstrators were arrested yesterday as police used pepper spray, tear gas and water cannon to disperse a protest in favour of secular education.

Some reports said as many as 100 people were been arrested, including the head of the Egitim-Is education union Veli Demir. It was not immediately clear if they would face any further legal action.

The Peninsula

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