World Bulletin/News Desk
In a defiant challenge to Turkey's prime minister, the head of the Constitutional Court complained on Friday of political criticism which he said had traumatised and divided the judiciary.
Hasim Kilic's uncompromising speech, made in the presence of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, will exacerbate the tense relationship between the government and judiciary.
Erdogan has said swathes of Turkey's lawyers and police are under the sway of his arch-foe, U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. He has clashed with judges over a series of rulings.
"To say that the Constitutional Court acts with a political agenda or to blame it for not being patriotic is shallow criticism," chief judge Kilic told a ceremony broadcast live on local TV channels.
"It is striking that a constitutional ruling has been criticised excessively with political worries," he said, in a reference to Erdogan's comment this month that he did not respect the court's lifting of a government-imposed ban on Twitter.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag struck back at the judge with an accusation that Kilic was acting like a political party and his speech had been heavy on polemics but light on legal ideas.
"The remarks made by the head of the constitutional court show that Turkey has a new opposition," Bozdag told reporters.
"Apparently the main opposition party and other opposition parties have failed...and our constitutional court head seems to be intent on filling this gap," he added.
Bozdag, insisting that the remarks were politically motivated, said that decisions made by the court could always be challenged, reminding the constitutional court head that the Turkish parliament was responsible for the rules made by the court.
Kilic said Erdogan's allegations that parts of the judiciary formed an effective "parallel state" in Turkey were "very dire and serious".
"It is impossible for the judiciary to remain on its feet while it remains tarnished with this allegation," Kilic said, urging those behind the claims to provide evidence.
"The allegations caused a psychological trauma within judicial institutions," he said, adding that the claims had caused divisions among judges and prosecutors.
Erdogan left the ceremony after Kilic's speech, skipping a reception.
Kilic, who has headed the top court since 2007, has not been viewed in the past as at loggerheads with the government. In 2008, he voted against a bid to close the AK Party.
His court is frequently called upon to consider opposition challenges to legislation, and one case pending at the court is an opposition call for a re-run of a contested mayoral ballot in the capital Ankara. Government officials have said the court does not have the authority to rule on the election.
The Ankara vote last month was narrowly won by the AK Party but the main opposition CHP has said it was marred by fraud including problems with vote counting - charges that Turkey's High Election Board has already rejected.
In February, President Abdullah Gul approved a draft law proposing to transfer some of the powers of Turkey's High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) to the justice minister.
However, the top court rejected the draft law and repealed the justice minister's power to appoint the HSYK members to the departments within the body of the HSYK.
The HSYK elects members of the Court of Cassation, the highest appellate court, and the Council of State, the highest administrative court. This makes the HSYK a powerful administrative body in Turkey's judiciary.
Erdogan remains Turkey's most popular politician after presiding over a decade of strong economic growth and his party trounced its rivals in March local elections, a result which has restored some calm to Turkish politics and financial markets.
Erdogan is keen to avoid renewed tensions ahead of his expected bid for Turkey's presidency in an August election.
Financial markets did not react to Kilic's comments on Friday.
Separately, Turkey's Capital Markets Board dismissed three of four deputy chairmen and 11 of 12 department heads on Friday in a move that one source linked to purges in other state institutions.Last Mod: 25 Nisan 2014, 17:50