Turkey's parliament approved a law boosting government control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors on Saturday, Feb 15, after a heated debate and a brawl that left one opposition lawmaker hospitalized, Reuters reports.
Dozens of MPs broke into fights during the tense 20-hour debate and insults flew across party lines. When an opposition deputy called Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan a dictator, deputies from the leader's party shouted back "are you drunk?"
The battle for control of the Higher Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which appoints senior members of the judiciary, lies at the heart of a feud between Erdogan and influential U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Gulen, whose followers say they number in the millions, is believed to have built up influence in the police and judiciary over decades and leads a powerful worldwide Islamic movement from a forested compound in the United States.
Erdogan, head of the ruling AK Party, blames him for unleashing a corruption investigation he sees as an attempted "judicial coup" designed to undermine him in the run-up to local and presidential elections this year.
Opposition parties said the HSYK bill aimed to stifle a graft investigation launched on Dec 17 in which dozens of prominent business people, the sons of three cabinet ministers, and state officials were questioned.
The decision to approve the HSYK law came after a night of fierce debate and a brawl which left one opposition member of parliament with a bloody broken nose requiring hospitalization and an AKP deputy with broken fingers, local media said.
The bill had been frozen since early January, when the last debate on it resulted in fist fights in parliament and mass protests outside. Erdogan vowed to push on, denying he was trampling on the constitution as the government faces one of the biggest challenges of his 11-year rule.
Since the graft scandal erupted late last year, the government has reassigned or dismissed thousands of police officers and hundreds of judges and prosecutors in what was widely seen as retaliation and a bid to impede investigations.
Details of the corruption allegations have not been made public, but are believed to relate to construction and real estate deals and Turkey's gold trade with Iran, according to Turkish newspaper reports that cite prosecutors' documents.