There have been repeated signs that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is really finished playing at being the most western leader of a Muslim country. Over the weekend he took two additional steps that reflect a more authoritarian, illiberal leadership style.
One step was a further crackdown on press freedoms – Turkey is already the leading jailer of journalists in the world – and the second was an open threat to throw out the U.S. ambassador. Turkish media and the prime minister also claimed that the U.S. ambassador and other Western diplomats were behind a far-reaching graft probe affecting many members of this Turkish government.
On Sunday, Dec. 22, a public statement was issued barring all journalists from entering police stations throughout Turkey.
All journalists in Turkey were told they had to turn in their keys and press passes to police stations.
The significance of this step is that it comes on the heels of the removal from office of more than 100 Turkish police chiefs from their positions. That move came in response to the ongoing graft investigation.
The second step was also taken in response to the graft crisis.
Rumors have spread throughout Turkey that various Western ambassadors met and were behind the ongoing graft probe against many members of Erdoğan’s government.
Over 80 people, including the sons of various heads of Turkish ministries have been detained and accused of being involved in corruption and bribery.
The main opposition to Erdoğan appears to actually be a former long-time ally of his, Fethullah Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the U.S., in Pennsylvania. The two powerful leaders used to be aligned. Both are committed to changing the nature of Turkey back from a secular country to one that is Islamist.
The U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, was named in various media reports as being a part of that plot.
In a speech given at the Black Sea airport at Samsun, the Turkish prime minister had harsh words to describe what he said was a meeting of foreign ambassadors to Turkey on Dec. 17.
Erdoğan claimed that at that meeting, the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, “burst out” with ‘”now you will watch the fall of an Empire.’” This was allegedly a reference to the fall of Erdoğan’s government.
Erdoğan called the actions and statements of the ambassadors “provocative.” He also said that unless they mind their own business, they will be thrown out of the country.
Ricciardone issued a statement on Sunday, just a few hours after Erdoğan’s public threat.
“The United States is in no way involved in the ongoing corruption and bribery operation,” Ricciardone said in a written statement released on Dec. 21.
“Nobody should put Turkey-U.S. relations in danger with unfounded claims.”