Moves to question Turkish spy chiefs quashed

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 20, 2012 7:23 AM
Moves to question Turkish spy chiefs quashed

By Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - State prosecutors have abandoned an attempt to question Turkey's spy chiefs over past secret contacts with Kurdish militants after government moves to curb their investigation of the intelligence agency (MIT), state media said on Monday.

In his first comments on the affair, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who had pursued concession to end a 28-year-old conflict, rejected talk in media and political circles of a power struggle drawing in police, judiciary and the MIT.

"There is no conflict between this country's institutions. That is impossible," said Erdogan in a live video link to a meeting of his ruling AK Party on Sunday from his home in Istanbul, where he is recovering from surgery.

Prosecutors lifted an order summoning MIT head Hakan Fidan after a parliamentary vote on Friday outlawing any attempt to investigate him without Erdogan's consent. The opposition said it would challenge it in the constitutional court.

Erdogan's attempts to ease the separatist conflict, partly by offering concessions over Kurdish language, were viewed with deep suspicion by nationalists in a conservative establishment. The effort has since collapsed and fighting between Kurdish rebels, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, and troops has resumed.

Prosecutors had sought to question Fidan and other officials about secret talks held with representatives of the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Oslo in 2010 and infiltration of a PKK-linked group by MIT operatives.

NATIONALIST SENSITIVITIES

The prosecutors' move to interview the MIT head touched on a sensitive area for Erdogan, who has succeeded in curbing the political power of the army since taking office in 2002 and is viewed with great suspicion by some because of an Islamist past.

Fidan and the MIT, which Erdogan controls, have repeatedly clashed with police over the detention and exposure of undercover agents during the arrests of hundreds of suspected PKK sympathizers, media said.

The PKK launched its armed rebellion in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

In tapes of the 2010 PKK talks leaked on the internet last year, Fidan, then the prime minister's special envoy, said Erdogan was prepared to take a great political risk to pursue peace talks.

State broadcaster TRT Haber said the prosecutor's office had revoked its summons to Fidan and an order for the arrest of four senior MIT personnel in connection with the Kurdish militant investigation.

The prosecutor's bid to question the spies was followed by a series of personnel changes within Istanbul police, where the investigation of Kurdish militants is focused - steps which analysts interpreted as a government response to the probe.

Three top intelligence and anti-terror police officials were initially transferred to Ankara and then another 10 were removed from the investigation of the organization linked to the PKK.

Istanbul police chief Huseyin Capkin said 700 Istanbul police officers had been transferred to eastern Turkey. But he described it as a routine move, unrelated to the MIT investigation.

(Writing by Daren Butler)