Turkey 'detains dozens' in new sweep against Erdogan foe supporters

A protest banner shows President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (centre) and cleric Fethullah Gulen (R) at a demonstration on December 30, 2013 in Istanbul (AFP Photo/Ozan Kose) (AFP)

Istanbul (AFP) - Turkish police on Tuesday detained almost 70 businessmen, local officials and teachers in a new nationwide sweep against supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's arch foe, reports said.

Sixty-eight people were detained on suspicion of links to the US-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen who Erdogan accuses of running a "parallel state" aimed at usurping him, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.

The coordinated raids on suspects, which came after seven months of investigations, took place in 22 regions across Turkey including Istanbul, Ankara, the resort of Antalya and Gaziantep close to the Syrian border.

A total of 120 arrest warrants were issued and several of the wanted suspects are believed to be abroad.

Those detained include business people, charity executives, lecturers, teachers and municipal officials, it said.

Turkish authorities have since the summer of 2014 rounded up allies of Gulen in numerous police operations but this was one of the biggest to date.

Despite living outside of Turkey, Gulen has built up huge influence in the country through allies in the police and judiciary, media and financial interests and a vast network of private schools.

Ankara accuses Gulen of running what it calls the Fethullahaci Terror Organisation/Parallel State Structure (FeTO/PDY) and seeking to overthrow the legitimate Turkish authorities.

There have been numerous legal crackdowns on structures linked to the group and, in a move that sparked anger abroad, Turkey last month forcibly seized a media group closely linked to Gulen.

Gulen supporters decry the accusations as ridiculous, saying all he leads is a more informal group known as Hizmet (Service).

Gulen has been based in the United States since 1999 when he fled charges against him laid by the former secular authorities.

He and Erdogan used to be allies but fell out. The president blames Gulen for a 2013 corruption scandal that broke while he was prime minister and posed one of the biggest threats of his rule.

Turkey has asked the United States to extradite Gulen but Washington has shown little appetite for doing so.