Turkey's prime minister refuses to step down amid protests

Prime Minister Recep Erdogan still has many supporters even as an increasingly vocal opposition takes to the streets

Riot police use water cannons to disperse demonstrators during an anti-government protest in central Istanbul Friday.
Murad Sezer/Reuters

Turkey's prime minister has rejected calls for him to step down, as protests continue across the country against a growing corruption scandal that has embroiled Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

Speaking to a large rally of supporters in the western city of Manisa on Saturday, Erdogan brushed aside allegations of fraud, saying they were part of an international campaign to discredit the government.

"If there is corruption, how come (Turkey's) $230 billion GDP moved up to $800 billion in 10 years since we got to power?" he said.

Erdogan said the government would not tolerate any corrupt officials, and urged his supporters to vote for his Justice and Development (AKP) party in elections scheduled for March.

But Erdogan's strong words, as well as the recent resignation of many of his staff amid accusations of taking bribes, has failed to quell the public anger over what many in Turkey see as a government increasingly out of touch with most Turkish people.

In the capital Ankara on Saturday, about 4,000 people called for Erdogan to resign, chanting, "may the thieves' hands be broken."

A day earlier, Turkish riot police used water cannons, tear gas and plastic bullets to push back hundreds of protesters in Istanbul and Ankara, in scenes reminiscent of the summer's mass anti-government demonstrations.

Police blocked hundreds of protesters from gathering in Istanbul's central Taksim Square and pushed them away to the nearby streets. At least 70 people have been detained in the Taksim protests.

Meanwhile, the bribery scandal continued to widen. Twenty-four people, including the sons of two former government ministers and the head of the state-owned financial institution, Halkbank, have been arrested on bribery charges.

Members of Erdogan's party have begun defecting as well. Former Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay said Erdogan's ruling party was being directed by "arrogance," in a news conference Friday in which he announced his resignation, and said that he was parting ways with the AKP.

Reporting from Istanbul, Al Jazeera's Omar Al Saleh said the corruption scandal may deepen since some reports have suggested that another wave of investigations will implicate 40 more people, including some government officials.

The turmoil is causing the Turkish currency to plummet against the dollar and the euro.

European officials urged Turkey to handle the scandal openly, amid concerns that Erdogan's government was trying to stifle investigations. Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey's newly appointed minister in charge of relations with the European Union, responded by saying the matter was an internal Turkish one.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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