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Erdogan's son ready to testify over graft probe

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday hit back at critics who have alleged that he has been stalling a corruption investigation reaching his family, while a lawyer says the leader's son was ready to give testimony to prosecutors.

Erdogan last month dismissed four government ministers implicated in a vast corruption and bribery scandal surrounding alleged illicit money transfers to Iran and bribery for construction projects. He then quickly moved to replace police officials involved in the investigation, an action which news reports said thwarted a second corruption probe that sought to question his son, Bilal Erdogan, among others. Police allegedly refused to bring Erdogan's son for questioning on prosecutors' orders.

Erdogan insists the corruption investigation targeting people close to him has been orchestrated by an Islamic movement led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan says Gulen's followers have risen to key positions in Turkey's judiciary and police, and that they want to harm the government ahead of local elections in March.

Gulen has denied any involvement in the probe but hundreds of police officials, prosecutors and judges — either directly involved in the investigations or believed to sympathize with the religious movement — have been removed from posts and reassigned to other positions.

"If you are honest and honorable, you'll come and show the evidence," Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara on Friday, responding to opposition party accusations that the government was trying to cover up a corruption inquiry focusing on his son.

He then threatened to reveal a corruption file on the opposition party's strong candidate for the mayor of Istanbul in the March local elections, unless the opposition party releases the file by Sunday.

In a more conciliatory gesture, Erdogan said that some articles of much-criticized draft legislation — which critics say aims to tighten government control over the judiciary — could be put on hold. Opposition parties say the measure would allow the government to block corruption investigations, and the European Union expressed concerns, calling on Turkey to respect the principles of rule of law and the separation of powers.

The state-run Anadolu Agency quoted lawyer Ahmet Ozel as saying late Thursday that 33-year old Bilal Erdogan was prepared to give testimony but he had not received any papers summoning him to testify.

"My client is ready to go and testify to prosecutors upon reception of an official notification," Anadolu quoted Ozel as saying. The statement came following a brawl in parliament where opposition legislators accused the prime minister of obstructing the investigation and of "harboring" a man wanted for questioning. An opposition deputy was briefly hospitalized after being punched by a legislator from Erdogan's party.

Erdogan on Friday refused to apologize to the opposition legislator who was hurt in the scuffles in Parliament, saying opposition deputies had provoked the fight by insulting him and his family. "Whoever insulted me and my family to such an extent should apologize first," Erdogan said.

Turkish newspapers last month published details of an allegedly leaked prosecutors' summons calling Bilal Erdogan to give testimony as a "suspect" in an investigation into an alleged organized crime syndicate. Newspaper reports said the investigation allegedly surrounds irregularities in the operations of an educational foundation whose board members include Bilal Erdogan.

The prosecutor who issued the summons complained that police officers had not carried out his orders for arrests and accused the Istanbul chief prosecutor and police of hampering the probe. He was later removed from the case.

The corruption scandal and Erdogan's response has eroded investor confidence, causing the Turkish lira to plummet to almost daily record lows. Turkey's central bank announced Thursday that it was intervening in the foreign exchange markets but failed to stop the lira's slide.

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