Turkish Parliament Moves to Shut Schools in Blow to Gulen

Turkey’s parliament will debate a bill that would shut down schools run by a U.S.-based cleric who Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses of instigating a graft probe against his government.

The debate today follows the release of purported recordings of Erdogan discussing how to conceal illicit funds. Erdogan dismissed the tapes, whose authenticity can’t be verified, as an “immoral montage,” even as he complained his encrypted phone was wiretapped.

The tapes have deepened the political and financial turmoil that has engulfed Turkey since the corruption allegations emerged in December. Thousands of members of the main opposition party, which has called on Erdogan to resign, held an anti-graft rally today in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square, where some tossed fake euro bills into the air.

“The prime minister’s mindset is against surrendering without fighting,” Hasan Oren, a lawmaker from the opposition Republican People’s Party, said by phone today. “He is resisting graft allegations at the cost of democracy.”

Five scientists working for the organization overseeing the encryption of government telephones were sent on leave from today and others were dismissed, Minister of Industry Fikri Isik said in Ankara today, as the government’s investigation into wiretapping began.

School Closings

Turkey’s benchmark stock index recovered 1 percent today after posting a 3.2 percent drop yesterday, its biggest this year. The lira which slid 0.2 percent against the dollar at 2:12 p.m. today, has fallen more than 8 percent since the corruption investigation became public, the most among emerging market currencies in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Erdogan’s allies say Gulen encouraged followers in the police and judiciary to orchestrate the probe to retaliate against government plans to shut down 4,000 prep schools, including about 1,000 run by the cleric’s followers.

The government has argued that prep school fees are a burden for families and argues the Gulen movement is using the schools to influence young minds.

Gulen’s followers teach about 400,000 of the 1.2 million prep-school students, including additional training to students preparing for exams from school to university.

Government Jobs

The bill orders the closing of all exam preparation schools by Sept. 1, 2015, and offers government jobs to teachers and incentives to owners if they convert their institutions to follow the national curriculum. Incentives include free land for 25 years and a government contribution for the students, the bill said. The plan was announced last year, sparking the conflict between Erdogan and the Gulen movement.

The legislation would also force the termination of all school principals who served for more than four years. The measure prompted a one-day nationwide strike today by teachers, according to the state-run Anatolia news agency.

In his year-end address to the nation, Erdogan called the graft probe, which has led to the departure of four cabinet ministers, “an assassination attempt hidden in a corruption package.” Gulen denies the allegations.

Erdogan has sought to solidify his hold on power since the corruption probe by removing and reassigning thousands of police officials, as well as prosecutors leading the investigation.

President Abdullah Gul today approved a controversial law that gives the government greater say over the appointment of judges and prosecutors. Erdogan is also pushing legislation to strengthen the powers of the country’s National Intelligence Agency amid efforts to tighten control over the police force.

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