ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday followers of an Islamic cleric with whom he’s locked in a power struggle might leak a video about him and his family to smear him before an August presidential election.
The cleric, Fethullah Gulen, is a former ally, now based in Pennsylvania, who Erdogan accuses of trying to unseat him. He says Gulen is behind a stream of “fabricated” voice recordings that purport to reveal corruption in the prime minister’s inner circle.
The leaking of those recordings on the internet ceased after local elections on March 30, which were dominated by Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, but the prime minister signaled in a rally in the eastern province of Agri he expected more to come.
“I have just found out that Pennsylvania is preparing a nice movie about me. They are preparing a nice movie about me and my family,” Erdogan told thousands of his supporters in the rally, ahead of a re-run of a municipal election in Agri on Sunday.
Erdogan is widely expected to run in Turkey’s first direct presidential election in August and he suggested the release of such a video was designed to embarrass him ahead of the vote.
“These plots have always failed, and they will fail. Now they are calculating on getting the movie ready before the presidential elections,” he said.
Government officials say Gulen’s Hizmet network has been illegally tapping thousands of telephones in Turkey for years to concoct criminal cases against its enemies and try to influence government affairs. Gulen has denied the accusations.
Erdogan has been battling a corruption scandal which emerged in December. Police raids targeted businessmen close to him and the sons of ministers, but it appears to have run out of steam, with one graft court case dismissed at the start of May.
The prime minister has removed thousands of police and judiciary officials from their posts in what he characterizes as a campaign to root out a subversive ‘parallel state’.
The power struggle has been one of the biggest challenges of Erdogan’s 11-year rule, but in his light-hearted comments about a possible video on Wednesday he showed no sign it worried him.
“They weren’t able to find an appropriate actor to play me so far. They couldn’t find an actor to play my son either,” he said. “But they don’t need to go to Hollywood to find actors, they have plenty of artists among themselves.”
Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Larry King