March 10, 2015 / 3:54 PM / in 2 years

Turkish PM denies rift with Erdogan over spy chief's return

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addresses the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York, March 6, 2015.Eduardo Munoz

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's prime minister denied a rift with President Tayyip Erdogan over the fate of the country's intelligence chief on Tuesday after the top spy was hastily restored to the job he had quit to stand in June elections.

Opposition parties said Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's reappointment of Hakan Fidan late on Monday as head of the MIT intelligence agency was a result of pressure from Erdogan, who had opposed his decision to run for a parliamentary seat.

Seen as a potential foreign minister, Fidan is one of Erdogan's closest confidants. But had he gone through with his plan to enter parliament, he could have become a powerful ally to Davutoglu and a potential check on Erdogan's influence.

"Pressure was exerted and he said 'I'll return to my duties'," main opposition CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu told a parliamentary meeting. "Everyone should know Hakan Fidan's return is not right. The government is under tutelage."

The nationalist MHP party also saw the reappointment as a move by Erdogan to consolidate his power.

"It is clear that President Erdogan is moving toward the goal of making MIT in the full sense his back garden, using it for his political interests," MHP General Secretary Ismet Buyukataman said in a written statement.

The MIT under Fidan appeared largely beyond the influence of a Muslim cleric rival, Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan accused of infiltrating police and judiciary in a bid to discredit him with graft accusations. Gulen denied such ambitions, but a power struggle continues within the establishment.

ERDOGAN'S VULNERABILITY

Erdogan is required by the constitution to remain above party politics, but his opposition to Fidan's resignation as intelligence chief signaled a possible rift between him and Davutoglu over election plans.

Elected president in August after a decade as prime minister, Erdogan wants the AKP to secure a stronger majority in June and make constitutional changes introducing a presidential system in Turkey, where the prime minister holds more power.

Speaking to reporters in parliament, Davutoglu played down tensions with Erdogan and defended Fidan's position.

"There is absolutely no difference of opinion between me and the president on this subject. We always consult," he said.

Jonathan Friedman of global risk consultancy Stroz Friedberg said Fidan's climb-down suggested that Erdogan - prime minister for more than a decade before winning the presidency last August - felt insecure in his current role, trying to maintain influence over government without the constitutional mandate.

"He's in a moment of real vulnerability, he's overstepped his constitutional powers," Friedman said.

"He's planning to legalize everything after elections, but in the meantime it’s a delicate period."

Additional reporting by Jonny Hogg; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall

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