Turkey’s US-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, has called the government’s crackdown on his followers “10 times worse” than the backlash during the military coups.
“What we are seeing today is 10 times worse than what we saw during the military coups,” Gulen made the comments in an interview with the daily Zaman.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Gulen of using his influence in the country’s police and judiciary to prompt a corruption probe to bring down his government.
Gulen’s Hizmet (Service) movement was an important supporter of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) when it came to power 11 years ago. The alliance, however, shattered after dozens of the prime minister’s political and business allies were arrested in police raids in the graft probe last December.
The scandal, which has turned into a very serious challenge to Erdogan's 11-year-rule, brought down four ministers and led to a cabinet reshuffle.
Erdogan has denounced the corruption investigation as a “dirty plot” by Gulen’s backers to undermine his government ahead of local elections on March 30 and a presidential vote in August. Gulen has repeatedly denied any involvement.
Erdogan has also dismissed hundreds of police and prosecutors believed to be linked to the cleric.
The Turkish parliament, which is dominated by the AKP, has approved a law to close a network of private preparatory schools, many of which are run by Hizmet.
“We face similar treatment (as during the military coups) but at the hands of civilians who we think follow the same faith as us,” Gulen said, recalling how he and his followers were harassed by the authorities after the 1980 army coup.
“All we can do is say 'This, too, shall pass’, and to remain patient,” he added, noting, “Aggressors will be turned upside down when they least expect it.”
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