Kicks and punches fly as Turkish MPs debate judicial reform

Kicks and punches fly as Turkish MPs debate judicial reform

ANKARA - Reuters
Kicks and punches fly as Turkish MPs debate judicial reform

Video footage shows AKP MP Zeyid Aslan doing his best Mortal Combat impression during a Justice Commission session.

Turkish parliamentarians threw punches and water bottles during a debate on Jan. 11 about government control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors, as a feud over the ruling party's handling of a corruption scandal intensified. 

Ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) controversial lawmaker Zeyid Aslan leapt on a table and launched a flying kick as others wrestled and punched at each other, with document folders, plastic water bottles and even an iPad flying through the air, a Reuters correspondent in the room said. 

When the scuffles broke out, parliament's justice commission was gathering to discuss a draft bill from the AKP to give the government more control over the judiciary. 

The fight erupted when a representative of a judicial association arrived with a petition arguing the bill was anti-constitutional, but was not allowed to speak, witnesses said. 

"If I am being kicked at here as a representative of the judiciary, all prosecutors and judges will be trampled on when this law passes," a ruffled Ömer Faruk Eminağaoğlu, head of the YARSAV professional association, said after the ruckus. 

Erdoğan has cast the wide-ranging corruption investigation, which poses one of the biggest challenges of his 11-year rule, as an attempted "judicial coup" meant to undermine him in the run-up to local and presidential elections this year. 

He has responded by purging the police force of hundreds of officers and seeking tighter control over the judiciary. 

More than 10,000 people attended a rally organized by unions in Ankara organised by a labour union to denounce corruption, waving placards with slogans including "Bye Bye Tayyip" and "Tayyip's money is safe is shoe boxes," a reference to footages of hoards of cash found in suspects' homes during the corruption investigation. Some handed out fake dollar bills bearing Erdoğan's image. 
Justice minister steps back

One Jan. 10 the acting head of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) warned that the government's proposal would breach the constitution. 

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, who was in the room when the punches were thrown, hinted that the AKP might back down if the opposition agreed instead to changes to parts of the constitution governing the judiciary. 

"If all political parties agree on a change in articles and announce it, it could be we withdraw this draft law," he said. 

However, Bozdağ's comments drew jeers of disapproval from opposition deputies, and a senior source in the ruling party said Erdoğan had no intention of backing down on the bill. 

"The AKP is trying to make its fascist regulation through violence. We won't allow this," said Müslim Sari, an MP for the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), who said an iPad had been thrown at him during the scuffles. 

Erdoğan's supporters have cast the corruption probe as a smear campaign devised by U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who exercises broad, if covert, influence in the media and judiciary through his followers. Many AKP officials consider the HSYK as dominated by members of the Gülen Movement.