ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — European officials urged Turkey to handle a deepening corruption scandal in a transparent manner on Saturday, amid some concerns that the government was trying to stifle an investigation that has targeted people close to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan this week reshuffled his Cabinet and fired key ministers after 24 people, including the sons of two former ministers, were arrested on bribery charges.
But the Turkish leader has also alleged his government is the victim of a foreign and local plot to destabilize Turkey and has taken steps which opponents say aims to impede the investigation, including the removal of police officers from posts. Erdogan had also changed police regulations to ensure that corruption probes are funneled through top police and judicial close to the government, but a Turkish high court overturned that move.
An estimated 4,000 people meanwhile, gathered in central Ankara on Saturday for a protest organized by a civil servants' union, calling on the government to step down over the scandal and chanting: "May the thieves' hands be broken!"
No violence was immediately reported.
On Friday, riot police used water cannon, tear gas and plastic bullets to push back hundreds of protesters trying to reach Istanbul's main square Taksim while some protesters threw rocks and firecrackers at police. Police also broke up a similar demonstration in Ankara.
The scenes were reminiscent of the summer's mass anti-government demonstrations — which were sparked by a government crackdown on an environmental sit-in opposed to the government redevelopment plans for Taksim — but the numbers taking part in the anti-corruption have not reached the summer's level.
The European Union's Enlargement Commission Stefan Fuele expressed concern over the scandal and said it should be tackled in a "transparent and impartial manner."
He welcomed the Turkish high court's decision blocking new police regulations, saying the government's move had "undermined the independence of the judiciary and its capacity to act."
"I urge Turkey ... to take all the necessary measures to ensure that allegations of wrongdoing are addressed without discrimination or preference in a transparent and impartial manner," Fuele said.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt urged Turkey on Twitter to return to "EU-inspired and democratic reforms" while Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, was quoted as telling the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that nations must clear up corruption allegations without regard to who is involved.
"In the Middle East, which is marked by crises and conflicts, a Turkey that is steady internally and externally is needed as a stable anchor," Steinmeier said.