ANKARA, Feb 19 (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that the main opposition party should be investigated for possible links to the U.S.-based cleric accused of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt, amid a bout of finger-pointing between the two sides.
Ankara blames Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, for masterminding the abortive putsch and has carried out a widespread crackdown on his alleged supporters. Thousands of people have been detained, arrested or sacked over links to Gulen’s network.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said last week Erdogan was the “political wing” of Gulen’s network, accusing him of allowing thousands of Gulenists to enter state ranks.
His comments drew harsh backlash from Erdogan, who in turn accused Kilicdaroglu of being involved with Gulen’s network, which Ankara calls FETO.
“Everyone may have had a role in growing, strengthening and expanding FETO in Turkey. However, it is myself and the AK Party that declared them a terrorist organisation and waged a war on them,” Erdogan told his AK Party (AKP) on Wednesday.
“We struggled to remove the FETO elements in institutions, and we think that we still haven’t been able to fully eliminate this scheme,” he added. “The state followed FETO everywhere, but it is clear that the CHP headquarters has not been examined enough.”
Gulen and Erdogan, once allies, fell apart in 2013 during a corruption investigation that briefly threatened to engulf the government, which Erdogan blames on Gulen’s network. Erdogan’s government also accuses Gulen of trying to establish a “parallel state” in Turkey.
Shortly after the 2016 coup attempt, Erdogan had said he had been “deceived” by Gulen and his network.
“I also met him (Gulen) in the past, there is no point in trying to hide this,” Erdogan said. “I accept that we struggled to explain the threat from this structure even to our very own circles. But we are the only ones who have relentlessly battled with FETO in a real way,” he said.
Several attempts by the opposition to establish a committee in parliament to look into Gulen’s political connections have so far been rejected by the AKP. Last week, Erdogan filed a 500,000 lira ($82,270) lawsuit against Kilicdaroglu for his comments.
Gulen has denied involvement in the coup attempt, in which some 250 people were killed and more than 2,000 wounded. Routine operations against Gulen’s network are still carried out across the country.
Rights groups and opposition parties have accused Erdogan of using the coup as a pretext to quash dissent. But the government has said the measures are necessary.
A prominent businessman was re-arrested hours after being acquitted on Tuesday over his alleged role in landmark 2013 protests, which posed a major challenge to Erdogan.
Osman Kavala was among nine people acquitted of an alleged role in organising the Gezi Park protests.
Commenting on Kavala’s acquittal, Erdogan said “they set out to acquit him with a manoeuvre”. He later told reporters the new arrest order must be respected.
($1 = 6.0775 liras) (Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Editing by Ece Toksabay and Nick Macfie)