December 28, 2013 - 12:10 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Protesters demanding Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan resign over a high-level corruption scandal clashed with riot police in Istanbul on Friday, Dec 27 while across the city thousands staged a rival show of support for the embattled leader, according to Reuters.
Around Taksim Square, center of anti-government demonstrations last summer, police fired tear gas and used water cannon against hundreds of protesters chanting "There are thieves".
Erdogan faces a crisis unprecedented during his 11 years in office due to the scandal that has forced three ministers' resignations and a cabinet reshuffle, as well as destabilizing the Turkish economy whose rapid growth has been a showpiece of his rule.
However, Erdogan still enjoys the loyalty of many pious Muslims and members of Turkey's wealthy elite. While police tried to prevent anti-Erdogan crowds from forming on Taksim, cheering supporters of the ruling AK Party welcomed him at Istanbul airport about 20 km (14 miles) away, waving party and national flags when he returned from a trip to the provinces.
Police detained dozens of people on December 17, among them the sons of the interior minister and two other cabinet members, after a major graft inquiry that was kept secret from commanders who might have informed the government in advance.
Earlier on Friday, Erdogan suffered a setback in his efforts to contain the fallout from the scandal when a court blocked a government attempt to force police to disclose investigations to their superiors.
The regulation that would have made police officers inform their superiors about investigations was announced by the government, angered at having been kept in the dark about the year-long corruption inquiry.
Financial markets reacted nervously on Friday to the scandal. The lira currency hit a record low, stocks were at their weakest in 17 months and the cost of insuring the country's debt against default jumped to an 18-month high.
The affair turned more personal this week when Turkish media published what appeared to be a preliminary summons for Bilal Erdogan, one of the premier's two sons, to testify, although its authenticity could not immediately be verified.
Denying wrongdoing, the Erdogan government purged about 70 of the police officers involved, including the head of the force in Istanbul, and issued a new rule on December 21 requiring police investigators to share their findings with their superiors.
The Council of State, an Ankara court that adjudicates on administrative issues, blocked implementation of the regulation, ruling that it "contradicts the principle of the separation of powers".
With speculation rife in his party that he might call early general elections next year, Erdogan urged supporters to vote in a March local polls as part of a "war" on what he says is a foreign-orchestrated plot cloaked as criminal proceedings.