1 OF 2. A Zaman journalist holds a placard at the headquarters of Zaman daily newspaper in Istanbul December 14, 2014.
CREDIT: REUTERS/MURAD SEZER
(Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that weekend raids on media outlets close to a U.S.-based Muslim cleric were part of a necessary response to "dirty operations" by political enemies, and dismissed European Union criticism of the moves.
The raids on the Zaman daily and Samanyolu television mark an escalation in Erdogan’s battle with former ally Fetullah Gulen, with whom he has been in open conflict since a graft investigation targeting his inner circle emerged a year ago.
Erdogan accuses Gulen of establishing a ‘parallel’ structure in the state through his supporters in the judiciary, police and other institutions, while wielding influence through the media. The cleric denies any ambition to overthrow Erdogan.
"They cry press freedom, but (the raids) have nothing to do with it," Erdogan said, speaking at the opening of an extension to an oil refinery near Istanbul.
"We have no concern about what the EU might say, whether the EU accepts us as members or not, we have no such concern. Please keep your wisdom to yourself," he said.
The European Union, of which Turkey is seeking to be a member, said on Sunday the raids ran counter to European values. EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said on Monday the raids were "not really an invitation to move further forward" with Turkey.
Police detained 24 people including top executives and ex-police chiefs in Sunday’s raids.
Erdogan said Turkey’s democratic standards were rising and that the operation against Gulen’s network was part of an effort to root out anti-democratic forces and would continue.
"This process is the planting of the seeds of the new Turkey," he said.
"Those who try to get involved in dirty business and dirty relations with the hope of returning Turkey to its old days are getting the necessary response, and will continue to get it."