x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Erdogan's decision to talk to Kurdish rebels being questioned by courts

Turkey prime minister faces a challenge by the country's judiciary over government-ordered secret talks by Ankara's main intelligence agency with the Kurdistan Workers' Party.

ISTANBUL // The Turkish prime minister yesterday faced a challenge by the country's judiciary over government-ordered secret talks by Ankara's main intelligence agency with a Kurdish rebel group.

Based on a police investigation, special prosecutors in Istanbul this week ordered high-ranking intelligence officials to answer questions about the talks they held with delegates with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a rebel group that has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule since 1984 and that is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey and the West.

The government of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reacted by firing two high-profile police officers connected to the investigation, and there was no sign yesterday that the intelligence officials, defined by the prosecutors as suspects in a continuing investigation, would travel from Ankara to Istanbul for questioning.

Bekir Bozdag, a deputy prime minister in Mr Erdogan's government, criticised the prosecutors' decision. "Being a jurist myself, I fail to understand the logic behind this investigation," Mr Bozdag told reporters in Ankara yesterday.

Prosecutors of a special high criminal court in Istanbul, conducting a wide-ranging investigation against suspected PKK supporters that has led to hundreds of arrests, called in Hakan Fidan, the head of the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT), Turkey's main intelligence service, as well as Mr Fidan's predecessor, Emre Taner, and a former deputy head of MIT, Afet Gunes.

According to news reports, prosecutors wanted to grill the officials about a series of meetings they held with PKK representatives.

The talks were held in the Norwegian capita of Oslo to investigate ways to end the Kurdish conflict. They were made public by Mr Erdogan in 2010. Mr Fidan, the head of the MIT, is a close adviser of the prime minister.

Yesterday, Mr Fidan met with Abdullah Gul, Turkey's president, while Mr Erdogan held talks with Sadullah Ergin, the justice minister, in what appeared to be efforts to solve the crisis.

"They are directly questioning Erdogan's decision to talk to the PKK," Asli Aydintasbas, a columnist for the Milliyet daily, said about the prosecutors yesterday. Solving the Kurdish conflict would become even harder now, she told The National.

"Police and prosecutors feel they can make policy," Aydintasbas said. "They see enemies everywhere. It is a process that has spun out of control."

Some observers said the development was a sign that the Erdogan government is coming under pressure from forces in the police and the judiciary that it initially encouraged to clear up suspected conspiracies within the ranks of the military and other state institutions.

Those investigations, which culminated last month in the arrest of General Ilker Basbug, a former chief of general staff, have been criticised as politically motivated by the opposition in Ankara.

But there are also signs that Mr Erdogan has become sceptical. His public call for Gen Basbug to be tried without detention was rebuffed by the judiciary that had ordered the former military chief's detention on January 6.

Mr Aydintasbas said Mr Erdogan had long relied on briefings by the police on the investigations, but had lately received "a broader perspective" in briefings by Mr Fidan, the MIT chief.

"Now there are questions about the way those investigations are carried out," she said.

Rusen Cakir, a columnist writing in the Vatan daily yesterday, described the special prosecutors as a "boomerang" challenging Mr Erdogan's Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Cakir wrote the AKP had overseen the removal of many secularist officials from the judiciary in recent years and their replacement by judges and prosecutors that were unlikely to anger the government.

"This new judiciary, and foremost the special courts, are a product of the AKP," Cakir wrote. "But now the Erdogan government was becoming more critical of the judiciary."