Turkish protesters clash with police

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 5:21am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 7:43am

Riot police blasted opposition protesters with water cannons, tear gas and plastic bullets in Istanbul in scenes reminiscent of the summer's mass anti-government demonstrations.

Protesters and shoppers scurried down side streets to avoid tear gas and water.

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held his own rally, with thousands of supporters greeting him as he arrived at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. Some of the protesters threw rocks and firecrackers at police, shouting, "Catch the thief!" in reference to a widening corruption scandal gripping Erdogan's government.

Similar protests were held in the city of Izmir, and in Ankara where police also fired water cannons to disperse the crowds.

At least 31 people, including three lawyers, were detained in Istanbul, the Istanbul Bar Association said on Friday.

A high court on Friday blocked the government from changing the rules on how corruption investigations are initiated, dealing another blow to Erdogan's government.

Before the government changed the regulations, prosecutors could launch investigations and order police to carry out detentions without seeking approval from superiors.

A prosecutor, Muammer Akkas, had complained that police officers had not carried out orders for another wave of arrests. In a written statement he distributed to reporters outside the courthouse late on Thursday, he said the chief prosecutor and police were hampering his probe.

Istanbul's chief prosecutor, Turan Colakkadi, later removed Akkas from the case for allegedly leaking information to the media, and said Akkas was carrying out "random investigations".

Aydinlik newspaper and its sister television station both published on their websites what they said was a copy of the prosecutor's summons for Erdogan's son Bilal to testify as a "suspect" in the investigation. According to the document, the prosecutor would have questioned him this Thursday on suspicion of "forming a criminal gang".

There was no immediate government statement disputing the authenticity of the document, which was also printed in Cumhuriyet newspaper.

Erdogan repeated claims of a foreign conspiracy to destabilise Turkey and its economy in four separate speeches on Friday and slammed the prosecutor.

"A prosecutor who distributes press releases to journalists outside a courthouse is a disgrace to the judiciary," he said. "How can you smear innocent people?"

Earlier, three legislators from Erdogan's party who have been critical of the government's handling of the scandal resigned over the government's "pressure on the judiciary".