Turkey’s government plans to give new powers to a 28,000-strong auxiliary police force, raising concerns that it’s being groomed to show allegiance to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and not the state.
The new powers, including the authority to ask people for identification and carry out body searches, are meant to allow the so-called “watchmen” to serve as a backup against criminals and protesters, according to a bill parliament is expected to approve by Friday. Force members are scheduled to receive human rights and firearms training.
But the main opposition CHP party is worried the force will become “regime guards” loyal to Erdogan’s ruling Islamic-rooted AK Party, CHP lawmaker Ali Oztunc said.
Naci Bostanci, an AK Party parliamentary whip, denied the allegation.
“The watchmen are part of the security forces, who are serving everyone” in the country, Bostanci said by phone on Thursday. “The allegations of the opposition parties have no basis in truth”.
Mehmet Metanet Culhaoglu, a lawmaker of the opposition Iyi Party, told parliament on Wednesday that media have reported allegations that some watchmen have been “interfering with people’s lifestyle, similar to the morality police in Iran.”
Erdogan’s government, in alliance with the nationalist MHP party, has been beefing up the security forces since 2013, when anti-government demonstrations erupted over the planned razing of a central Istanbul park. It redoubled that effort after a failed 2016 coup.