Turkish PM Erdoğan calls protesters atheists, leftists, terrorists

Turkish riot police secure an area as fake U.S. dollar notes with the image of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdopig are seen spread across a road leading to a building belonging to the ruling AK Party during a protest against Erdogan and his government in Ankara on February 28

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said those who have taken to the streets in protest at corruption and graft allegations are “atheists and terrorists,” speaking at a rally in the western province of Balıkesir.

“We opened a boulevard in Ankara on Monday [Feb. 24] despite the [protests of] leftists, despite those atheists. They are terrorists, but the [main opposition Republican People’s Party] CHP is calling them ‘our youth,’” said Erdoğan at the Feb. 28 rally.

Erdoğan described the probe as a plot against his government, orchestrated by the Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has been residing in the United States for the past 15 years.

In the Balıkesir rally, Erdoğan also criticized Gülen for allegedly telling female students to remove their headscarves in order to be able to attend schools during the Feb. 28, 1997, post-modern coup attempt.

“He [Gülen] was saying you may not wear headscarves. Why do you [Gülen] get involved? Because he does not have any children,” he said, referring to the fact that Gülen is unmarried and has no children.

The prime minister had previously criticized the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli for not having any children or family.

Addressing the Balıkesir crowds, Erdoğan also once again called on people not to send their children to private prep schools, a considerable number of which are run by people close to the Gülen movement.

Related: Mustafa Koc, chairman of Turkey’s biggest company Koc Holding, on Sunday called on the government to calm financial markets worried about a corruption inquiry and denied he has sought to undermine Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

In a rare interview, Koc also told Hurriyet newspaper that in May 2013 he met with Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Islamic cleric whom Erdogan has accused of orchestrating the corruption scandal, but that they did not discuss “political designs”.

“There is this perception out there and to act like there is nothing or to call all of it complete lies does not seem right to me,” Koc said. “Markets have been tense since December 17 (and) would immediately respond positively to a reduction in this tension. Trust needs to be rebuilt at once.”

The lira currency has lost almost 9% of its value against the dollar since December 17 amid concerns about political stability in the emerging market.