Hundreds of people gathered at Ankara’s Esenboğa Airport Dec. 24 to welcome Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on his return from Pakistan in a show of support amid an unprecedented graft investigation which implicates the sons of three government ministers and the general manager of state-owned Halkbank.
In the spontaneous rally, reminiscent of Erdoğan’s speech at the Istanbul airport at the height of the Gezi protests, the prime minister vowed to hold to account those involved in corruption, but maintained his defiant stance describing, once again, the probe as an attack against his government.
“Anyone who has taken the right of the people and of the poor orphan, will be held accountable by [the government] and justice,” Erdoğan said, emphasizing however the probe targeted “national will.”
“The backdrop of the operations against our government on Dec. 17 [targets] the national will, the people. There is a choice here: Either the people, or humiliation. I believe those who say the people will win and those who aspire to humiliate will lose again,” Erdoğan said.
The high-level graft probe has shaken the political establishment, exposing a bitter feud between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, whose followers hold key positions in the police, judiciary and secret services.
Twenty-four people have been formally arrested under the corruption investigation that hit Turkey last week, including the sons of Interior Minister Muammer Güler and Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan.
In response, approximately 70 police officers, including the powerful head of Istanbul’s force, have been sacked or moved to different posts.
Erdoğan pointed to the upcoming local elections early next year as a new threshold. “Don’t forget, March 30 is a milestone,” he told his supporters in a short address. “Let them lay their traps, but there is nothing bigger than the trap of the people. We will endeavor to work more and be more united,” he said.
Erdoğan also sent a message to Gülen, who had cursed the purge of police officials in an emotional speech published on his website herkul.org.
“I’m condemning curses and inviting prayer,” Erdoğan said, implicitly referring to Gülen’s invocation of God’s punishment for those responsible for sacking or removing the officers involved in the corruption investigation from their posts.
Erdoğan is expected to make an extensive cabinet reshuffle in the following days, where the issue of the four ministers involved – Environment and Urbanization Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar, European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış, along with Güler and Çağlayan – will be on the agenda.