Turkey’s opposition and protesters in major cities demanded that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan resign over a purported recording of him discussing how to dispose of illicit funds.
Erdogan said the tape released on YouTube was a fabrication intended to undermine his party before next month’s local elections.
Republican People’s Party Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu said Erdogan should step down, while police firing tear gas and water cannons broke up anti-government demonstrations in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities on Tuesday.
The recording, whose authenticity cannot be verified, deepens the turmoil surrounding a graft scandal that broke out into the open in December last year, roiling financial markets and driving three ministers out of the Cabinet.
Erdogan and his allies accuse US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his followers inside Turkey’s police and judiciary of pursuing the probe to weaken the government, with the help of wiretaps and faked tapes.
Turkey’s benchmark stock index on Tuesday posted its biggest drop this year, 3.2 percent.
The lira, which recovered 0.3 percent against the US dollar at 8:47am yesterday, has fallen more than 8 percent since the corruption investigation became public, the most among emerging market currencies in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Demonstrations broke out in Istanbul, Ankara, the Aegean coastal city of Izmir and other regions.
In the western city of Izmit, hundreds of protesters pelted Erdogan’s party headquarters with eggs, the Hurriyet newspaper said.
“We’re against a corrupt prime minister,” said Mehmet, an engineering student in Ankara who declined to give his surname for fear of reprisals.
Residents in some cities supported the protesters from their windows and balconies, Hurriyet said.
Erdogan told lawmakers in parliament that his Justice and Development Party will “settle scores at the ballot box,” in local elections due on March 30.
He told reporters he would supply evidence about how the recordings were produced, the official Anatolia news agency said.
“Erdogan is going through the worst crisis in his career,” Nihat Ali Ozcan, an analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara, said by telephone.
“The spell around his charisma is broken and it is difficult to repair the damage. There will be consequences of this sooner or later,” Ozcan added.