ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Authorities issued warrants against 11 executives and university officials in central Turkey on Wednesday in an operation targeting supporters of a U.S.-based cleric accused by President Tayyip Erdogan of plotting a coup, local media said.
The state-run Anadolu Agency said the move was aimed at the “parallel state structure”, which Erdogan accuses cleric Fethullah Gulen of operating in the ranks of the judiciary, police, media and education.
But the operation is likely to be seen by Erdogan’s critics as an attempt to squash opponents less than two months before a snap election where the AK Party he founded is seeking to win back a single-party majority.
The crackdown also comes amid daily deadly clashes in the southeast between militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and security forces, after a ceasefire collapsed in July.
Government officials have accused Gulen’s followers - who operate newspapers critical of the government, businesses and schools - of having ties to the PKK. Gulen denies such links and himself describes the PKK as a terrorist organization.
“In order to get a result in the fight on terror it is essential to bring down the parallel-PKK alliance and fight them at the same time,” Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan said in an interview with the pro-government Sabah newspaper published on Wednesday.
The fighting and other recent raids against opposition media outlets and Gulen-associated businesses, have spooked investors, helping to send the lira to a series of record lows and making it one of the worst performing emerging-market currencies this year.
Prosecutors on Tuesday launched an investigation into Dogan Media Group, a frequent Erdogan target, for “terrorism propaganda”. On Monday police raided the offices of a political magazine on charges its cover insulted Erdogan.
In the operation in the central Turkish city of Kayseri, warrants were issued for the detention of 11 individuals on charges of “organized theft” and seven have so far been detained, Anadolu said.
It said Memduh Boydak, the chief executive of the unlisted furniture-to-cables Boydak Holding group and the head of the board of trustees at the city’s Meliksah University, was among those detained.
Company spokesman Ulas Ozturk said Boydak had not been detained but had been summoned by police to make a statement related to the university. “This has nothing to do with Boydak Holding,” Ozturk told Reuters.
TUSIAD, Turkey’s leading business lobby, said Boydak was one of its board members, and described the report of his detention as saddening.
Recent police raids have targeted Gulen-affiliated conglomerates including mining-to-media group Koza Ipek Holding and Kaynak Holding, which is involved in publishing.
But the crackdowns appear to have done little to shore up support for the AKP.
A survey by the pollster SONAR on Wednesday put support for the AK Party on 38.2 percent, down from 40.9 percent in the June 7 election.
“The AKP is continuing to lose votes and cannot achieve single-party rule. The opposition is increasing its votes. The period of coalitions is unavoidable,” SONAR chairman Hakan Bayrakci wrote on Twitter.
A survey published by the pollster Metropoll this week indicated the Gulen movement ranked low among the major problems which Turks believe they face.
According to 42.2 percent of respondents, the biggest problem faced by Turkey was “terrorism/PKK”, followed by the economy on 22.4 percent. The Gulen movement ranked 13th with 0.2 percent of participants saying it was the biggest problem.
Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan and Dominic Evans