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Turkey: Erdogan ally Bulent Arinc resigns in dispute over reforms

Arinc left the Turkish president's high advisory council after he called for the release of two high-profile prisoners
Then-Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, talks to his then-deputy Bulent Arinc during a debate at the parliament in Ankara on 25 February 2010 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

One of the leading associates of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has tendered his resignation from the government's high advisory council over divisions regarding the scope of judicial reforms.

Bulent Arinc, a former speaker of the National Assembly and a member of the ruling AK Party since its foundation, called last week for the release of Selahattin Demirtas, a former chairman of the pro-Kurdish HDP party, and philanthropist Osman Kavala from prison.

Arinc said that Demirtas, who has been imprisoned on terrorism charges for more than four years, could be quickly released, and that charges against Kavala were outright baseless.

Arinc’s remarks came as Erdogan promised economic and judicial reforms to increase investors’ confidence in the Turkish economy amid a currency crisis after he reshuffled the economic leadership earlier this month.

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Over the weekend, however, Erdogan didn’t take Arinc’s statement lightly, accusing him of standing in solidarity with individuals who are accused of having ties to terrorism.

“We observe that there is an attempt to create a fire of sedition [among our ranks] with some personal statements that have nothing to do with us,” Erdogan said on Sunday during a televised address. “It is quite clear where we stand. We cannot connect ourselves with the individuals who are walking with terrorism hand-in-hand.”

Arinc, in a statement posted to Twitter on Tuesday, said that he had consulted Erdogan before announcing his resignation. He added that he stood behind his previous statements, but was concerned that the reform process could have derailed if had not resigned from the council.

“I won’t stop listening to the voice of my conscience even I have paid a price for it,” he said. “I will continue the work done in the interest of the country by President Tayyip Erdogan.”

Before Arinc's resignation was announced, Erdogan ally Devlet Bahceli, the leader of ultranationalist MHP party, struck out against Arinc during an address to his parliamentary group.

'I won’t stop listening to the voice of my conscience even I have paid a price for it'

- Bulent Arinc 

“It is completely contradictory and even dumb for him to appear on TV and praise Sorosist Osman Kavala and terrorist Demirtas,” he said, in reference to Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros. “This individual's demand for the release of two criminals is a celebration of criminals, an involvement of the crime committed, [something that] serves treachery.”

Turkish officials have accused Demirtas, as then-HDP chairman, of calling for unrest in October 2014 in southern Turkey in response to an Islamic State (IS) attack on the Syrian border town of Kobani. Demirtas had accused Ankara of turning a blind eye to the siege that was imposed on the Kurdish-majority city.

More than 46 individuals died during the protests, which quickly turned into violent clashes between police and the pro-Kurdish protesters, as well as skirmishes between rival Kurdish and Turkish political groups.

However, the Turkish Constitutional Court ruled last June that Demirtas' imprisonment was unconstitutional and ordered compensation to be paid. Demirtas has yet to be released from prison due to a separate charge. 

Last February, businessman Osman Kavala was detained for alleged links to a failed 2016 coup attempt, hours after he was acquitted for his alleged role in the 2013 Gezi Park protests.

Prosecutors have accused Kavala of "attempting to undermine the constitutional order" in relation to the 2016 coup attempt, which Ankara has blamed on Fethullah Gulen, a religious leader exiled in the United States who has denied involvement.

Kavala, a philanthropist known for his civil society work, has been behind bars for three years.

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