Rift widens in Turkish leaders’ spat

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Turkey’s president has dismissed suggestions by prime minister Tayyip Erdogan that he exceeded his authority over the handling of a banned protest march, highlighting increasingly open differences between the two.

Mr Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for a decade and overseen unprecedented economic growth, is widely expected to stand for a newly-created powerful executive presidency at elections in 2014. Recent polls, however, show Abdullah Gul as the more popular figure, though he has not expressed any intention to run for the new post.

Mr Erdogan expressed irritation at police failure to prevent thousands of secularists marching in a banned Republic Day rally in Ankara on Monday to protest against what they see as an increasingly repressive and Islamist government.

Police eventually fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowd, prompting Mr Erdogan to question who had ordered them to remove barricades blocking the protesters’ path.

“We did not get this country to where it is today with 
double-headed government,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday, in a thinly-veiled reference to the presidency.

Mr Gul, a co-founder of the ruling AK Party along with Mr Erdogan in 2001, yesterday rejected the idea of a conflict of powers. “There can be nothing more natural than me as president asking officials that the republic holiday be celebrated in a decent way,” Mr Gul said.

“There is no double-headed [government] in the state … our constitution and laws clearly state our authority, duty and responsibilities,” he told reporters at the presidential palace.

Republic Day marks the foundation in 1923 of the modern Turkish secular republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, whose image the protesters carried on their march. Many secularists see Mr Erdogan, whose party was first elected to power in 1992, as a threat to that secular system – an accusation he denies.