ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lashed out at critics of a government reform bill being debated in parliament that would greatly expand the powers of his office.
"Whatever you do, I believe that this will pass — even if it takes a month rather than two weeks — and go before the people," Erdogan said in remarks apparently directed at the main opposition party which does not back the proposals.
On Monday, Turkish lawmakers began discussing a set of constitutional amendments that would transform the country's system of government and boost presidential powers.
Critics fear these changes, which need to clear parliament with several rounds of voting and will likely be put to a referendum, would allow Erdogan to govern unchecked.
Ruling party and opposition legislators have come to blows twice this week during tense deliberations over the controversial bill.
Erdogan dismissed concerns Thursday, stating "if you have any respect for the people, if you have any respect for the will of the people ... then let these discussions end so that the people can make a decision."
He also sought to quell fears at home that secular lifestyles were under threat.
"If we have not had any problem with democracy and secularism in the past 14 years, why would we in the future?" he asked.
The debate coincides with tough times for Turkey, which has witnessed a wave of bombings, renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels in the southeast, a military offensive in Syria and a failed coup attempt.
The botched July 15 coup set the stage for a sweeping purge of state institutions that has alarmed rights groups and Western governments
Advocates of the presidential system contend robust leadership is necessary to address such challenges and quash foes both domestic and foreign.
Opponents see the constitutional amendments as a bid to further empower Erdogan who has exercised an outsized role since making the transition from prime minister to president in 2014.