ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish police launched an operation on Friday to detain dozens of people including businessmen seen as supporters of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, President Tayyip Erdogan’s ally-turned-foe, a provincial governor’s office said.
Moves against what Erdogan calls a parallel structure or terrorist group within the state had until now focused on suspected Gulen sympathizers in the police, judiciary, media and a bank founded by his followers.
Erdogan, seeking overwhelming support for the AK Party he founded at June elections which he hopes will pave the way for broader presidential powers, accuses Gulen of among other things engineering a graft scandal to discredit and unseat him.
Gulen, a close ally when the AK Party first took power, denies the charges.
Friday’s police operation focused on the central city of Konya but included 19 provinces. It targeted 66 people, including businessmen and former police officers, the Konya governor’s office said.
It said in a statement that the investigation related to allegations including membership of what it termed the “Fethullahist Terror Group” and violating the secrecy of an investigation, without giving details.
The raids were triggered by the arrest of a Konya-based lawyer and his secretary as they sought to leave Turkey earlier this month, it said.
Twenty people including a former provincial police chief were among those so far held, the Dogan news agency reported.
“I am detained. Probably because we spoke and told the truth. It’s not a problem,” said a message on a widely followed Twitter account bearing the name and picture of Ercan Tastekin, former police chief in the eastern province of Bingol.
Thousands of police officers, judges and prosecutors were removed from their posts or transferred to other duties after a graft scandal broke around members of Erdogan’s inner circle in December, 2013. The court cases they instigated have also been dismissed, raising questions about independence of the judiciary in a political landscape dominated by Erdogan.
Erdogan’s opponents say the crackdown on dissent is not limited to members of Gulen’s Hizmet (Service) network.
Erdogan has also stepped up criticism of leading media group Dogan and in a television interview late on Thursday lambasted its writers as “charlatans with salaries”, holding up examples of Hurriyet newspaper front pages attacking him.
A prosecutor has filed a criminal compliant against Hurriyet editors over a headline he said suggested Erdogan could share the same fate as ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi, for whom an Egyptian court has sought the death penalty.
Hurriyet has rejected the allegations.
Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Robin Pomeroy