ISTANBUL (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan has filed a lawsuit against the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party over “baseless” comments linking the president to the Muslim cleric Ankara blames for a failed 2016 coup, Erdogan’s lawyer said on Thursday.
The cleric, Fethullah Gulen, was once a close ally of Erdogan’s government, but they fell out in recent years. Turkish authorities declared Gulen’s movement a terrorist organisation in 2016 and accused his supporters of instigating the military putsch later that year in which 250 people were killed.
Tens of thousands of people have been detained on charges of links to Gulen’s movement in the security crackdown that followed the attempt to overthrow Erdogan.
The head of the secular opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP,) Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said this week Erdogan had been closer to Gulen than any other Turkish politician.
“The political arm of the Gulenist network is the person who is occupying the presidency,” Kilicdaroglu said in a speech to members of his party in Ankara. “The number one political arm of Gulenist network, the number one defendant, is the person who occupies the presidency.”
Lawyer Huseyin Aydin dismissed the accusation, saying it was clear to everyone Erdogan was leading the fight against Gulen and that the president was seeking 250,000 lira ($63,000) in damages.
“We have filed a lawsuit because of Kilicdaroglu’s unfair and baseless accusations directed towards our president,” Aydin said on Twitter.
Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has denied involvement in the abortive coup.
The U.N. human rights office said earlier this month Turkey has detained 160,000 people and dismissed nearly the same number of civil servants since July 2016. Of those detained, 50,000 have been formally charged and kept in jail during trial.
Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 15 years as prime minister and then president, has had multiple spats with Kilicdaroglu that produced more than 20 court cases.
($1 = 3.9855 liras)
Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Dominic Evans