Turkey President Erdogan Defends Detentions, Dismisses EU Criticism

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Comments Are First Official Remarks Since 27 Followers of U.S.-Based Cleric Fethullah Gülen Were Detained.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday defended the detention of journalists and security officials as a necessary step to catch traitors, vowing to continue a crackdown while dismissing criticism from the European Union as meddling in his country’s affairs.

“We’re pursuing treachery, we’re eliminating stooges, we’re disrupting traps and schemes by the enemies of Turkey,” Mr. Erdogan said in the first official remarks on a series of Sunday raids in which Turkish authorities detained 27 people.

The suspects are followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Turkish cleric whose decadelong alliance with Mr. Erdogan collapsed last year amid a power struggle.

Prosecutors accused high-profile opposition journalists and police chiefs of forming an illegal organization to overthrow the state. Mr. Erdogan has said Mr. Gulen’s network established a parallel state inside the bureaucracy as part of a coup against his government. He vowed once again on Monday to eradicate it during back-to-back televised speeches.

“Those who engage in dirty dealings, enter into dirty alliances in hopes that Turkey will go back to its old days are getting their due and will continue to do so,” Mr. Erdogan said, emphasizing the country’s turbulent decade before his party came to power in 2002. Turkey is set to hold general elections in June.

Turkey’s Western allies widely criticized the detentions, which also spooked foreign investors. Already pressured by a broader emerging-market selloff, the lira slid 4% to a record low of 2.3945 per dollar as Mr. Erdogan delivered speeches accusing Mr. Gulen’s supporters of being pawns in an international scheme to derail Turkey’s progress.

The president also lashed out at the EU, telling the bloc to mind its own business just a week after hosting top officials from Brussels in Ankara.

As part of his bid to forge a “new Turkey,” Mr. Erdogan wants to rewrite the constitution and convert Turkey’s parliamentary model of governance to a U.S.-style presidential system. To do that, he needs to secure a greater majority for his party in Parliament.

“All the steps Erdogan takes are for the elections, and to broaden presidential powers after the vote,” said Mehmet Muderrisoglu, a Turkey analyst at political-risk consultancy Eurasia Group. “The detentions were the first step in an expanding operation.”

Mr. Gulen has been living in Pennsylvania since 1999 and denies plotting against the government. He fled Turkey after secularist prosecutors charged him with seeking to overthrow the state—a case that was dismissed in 2006. Mr. Erdogan has repeatedly called for Mr. Gulen’s extradition from the U.S., and on Monday the president said authorities will pursue traitors abroad, too.

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