Turkey moves to curb powers of top judicial body

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Turkey has moved to curb the powers of the country's top independent judicial body, triggering concern on Wednesday from Europe's top human rights watchdog.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) submitted a bill on Tuesday seeking constitutional amendments to restructure the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the latest twist in the political crisis rocking Turkey.

Justice Minister Beckir Bozdag also said that the government would block an investigation by the HSYK into alleged political pressure on police and prosecutors involved in a graft probe targeting key allies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The moves against the judiciary triggered concern from the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks.

"Proposals to curb powers of HSYK represent serious setback for the independence of the judiciary in Turkey," he said in a tweet.

The AKP bill is due to be discussed by a parliamentary commission on Friday, Turkish media reports said.

"In terms of changing the HSYK, we can work with the opposition for a better solution, including a constitutional change. This may include the appointment of members by parliament," Bozdag said.

The HSYK had said on Tuesday it planned to look into allegations that new Istanbul police chief Selami Altinok was blocking prosecutors from carrying out further arrests in the graft probe.

But Bozdag said the government would not allow such a probe into Altinok and Istanbul chief prosecutor Turan Colakkadi, who removed one of the lead investigators in the widening corruption case, Hurriyet newspaper reported.

Others being investigated by the HSYK include prosecutor Muammer Akkas, who was barred last month from expanding the corruption investigation amid reports it may target Erdogan's son.

In addition, it is looking into the activities of Istanbul prosecutor Zekeriya Oz, who was reportedly accused of corruption over a Dubai holiday paid for by a Turkish construction company.

The Turkish government has sacked an estimated 700 police, including top chiefs, in the wake of raids in December against dozens of people accused of bribery and corruption, including the sons of three former ministers and leading businessmen including the head of a state-owned bank.

Erdogan and his allies claim the investigation is a plot to topple his government by a once-allied movement headed by an exiled Turkish cleric.

The European Union voiced its concerns Wednesday about the latest developments in Turkey, urging allegations of wrongdoing to be investigated in a "transparent and impartial manner".

The European Commission also spoke out against the wave of sackings, saying they could undermine the "capacity of the judiciary and the police to investigate matters in an independent manner".

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