Erdogan accuses rival Gulen as new leaked recording emerges

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Children collect fake money after a demonstration against corruption on February 26, 2014 at the Istiklal avenue in Istanbul. (Photo: AFP - Ozan Kose)

Published Thursday, February 27, 2014

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday openly challenged his arch-rival, US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, to return home as their feud deepened with a second leaked recording linking the premier to a corruption scandal.

In his first direct appeal to Gulen, Erdogan said: "If you have not done anything wrong, do not stay in Pennsylvania. If your homeland is Turkey, come back to your homeland."

"If you want to engage in politics, go out to the squares. But do not stir up this country. Do not disturb the peace of this country," he told a boisterous crowd of supporters in the southwestern city of Burdur.

Erdogan has repeatedly accused associates of Gulen, who has strong ties to Turkey's police and judiciary, of being behind a high-level corruption probe that has ensnared some of his key political and business allies.

But after months of veiled finger-pointing, Thursday's speech appeared to mark the first time Erdogan directly called out his influential ally-turned-enemy Gulen, whom he accuses of seeking to destabilize Turkey ahead of local elections in March.

The corruption scandal erupted on December 17 when dozens of Erdogan allies were detained in police raids on allegations of bribery in construction projects, gold smuggling and illicit dealings with Iran.

The firebrand premier retaliated by sacking hundreds of police and prosecutors.

Tensions have risen further with a phonetapping scandal implicating Erdogan in corruption.

An audio recording was leaked on Monday in which Erdogan can allegedly be heard telling his son to get rid of millions of euros in cash on the day of the police raids. Erdogan said the audio was fabricated by his rivals using a "vile montage."

In another blow to the premier, a second tape was posted online on Wednesday in which Erdogan can supposedly be heard advising his son not to accept an amount of money promised by a businessman in order to extort more money from him.

"Don't take it. Whatever he has promised us, he should bring it. If he is not going to bring that, there is no need," the voice purportedly belonging to Erdogan says.

"The others are bringing (the agreed amount of money). Why can't he? What do they think this business is?... But don't worry they will fall into our lap."

The wiretapped conversations have triggered street protests against Erdogan and his government, while the opposition has called for the premier's resignation.

The current crisis poses the biggest challenge yet to Erdogan's 11 years in power.

Gulen lives in self-imposed exile in the US. He owns a network of schools, cultural centers and media and was a key backer of Erdogan before falling out with him over the government's plans to shut down his schools.

His Hizmet movement has denied being behind the corruption probe.

(AFP)

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