ANKARA: Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday described a corruption investigation shaking his government as a "black stain on Turkey's democratic history" and a worse betrayal than any of the military coups of past decades.
Addressing members of his ruling AK Party in parliament, Erdogan said the corruption investigation was being driven by outside forces opposed to Turkey's assertive foreign policy and bent on damaging its economy ahead of elections this year.
Erdogan's supporters view the investigation as a plot to undermine him orchestrated by U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally whose network of followers is influential in the police and judiciary.
In an apparent bid to force the opposition's hand, Erdogan said he could drop a controversial bill to give government greater sway over the naming of judges and prosecutors if the opposition agreed instead to changes to the constitution on control of the judiciary.
The main opposition CHP, which argues the government's plans violate the constitution, said it would only negotiate if Erdogan withdrew the proposals first. A senior AK Party official said he was not optimistic of reaching a compromise.
The corruption scandal, one of the biggest challenges of Erdogan's 11-year rule, erupted on December 17 with the detention of dozens of people including businessmen close to the government and three cabinet ministers' sons.
Turkey has been held up by the United States and other Western allies as an example of a working Muslim democracy since Erdogan was first elected in 2002. But a crackdown on popular protests in June and Erdogan's reaction to the corruption scandal have raised doubts about his democratic credentials.
Erdogan has purged hundreds of police officers and sought tighter control over the courts, raising alarm in Western capitals and shaking investor confidence in what was long one of the world's fastest growing economies.
"December 17 is a black stain on Turkey's democratic history. It has surpassed all previous coup attempts and has been recorded as a betrayal to the state, democracy and the nation," Erdogan said to applause from his party members.
"This operation targeted our national foreign policy, our national will, our national intelligence agency," he said.
The army forced four governments from power in the second half of the 20th century but Erdogan moved soon after taking office to break its political influence, an achievement welcomed by many at home and abroad as a democratic breakthrough.