Turkey spy chief resumes duties after surprise U-turn

Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey's intelligence agency, looks on in Ankara on December 19, 2014 (AFP Photo/Adem Altan)

Ankara (AFP) - Turkey's powerful spy chief Hakan Fidan on Tuesday returned to his duties in a surprise U-turn just over a month after sensationally quitting the job in a move that raised the prospect of a split in the Turkish elite.

Fidan had on February 7 quit as chief of the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) to stand in June legislative elections for the ruling party.

But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had then stunned observers by saying he was unhappy with the resignation of Fidan, whom he has repeatedly described as his "secret keeper".

Some commentators had detected signs of an unprecedented split between Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu over the issue, with the premier seen as backing Fidan as a powerful political ally.

But Fidan, who on Monday confirmed he was abandoning the plan to become a lawmaker, has now returned to his duties as head of the MIT after his month-long absence, the official Anatolia news agency said.

With Ankara political circles frantically seeking to work out the origins of the turmoil, Davutoglu denied any suggestions of a split with the president.

"There is no split or disagreement between Mr President and me on this issue. We always consult," Davutoglu told reporters in parliament.

"I respect decisions made by people who hold such positions," he said.

Davutoglu in February had approved Fidan's decision to leave MIT to become a lawmaker, in stark contrast to Erdogan who expressed dismay.

Erdogan said last week after returning from Saudi Arabia: "I myself appointed him (Fidan)... he should have stayed instead of leaving without permission, so I am of course disappointed."

One of Turkey's most powerful figures, Fidan had served as head of the Turkish secret service since 2010 and has always been considered one of Erdogan's closest allies.

He is also a critical figure in Turkey's peace process with Kurdish separatist rebels and is reported to have a strong personal rapport with jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan.

In a brief statement on Monday, Fidan did not explain why he had given up his MP candidacy, saying only that he deemed it "necessary."

Davutoglu on Tuesday said he met Fidan on Saturday night and then consulted with the president, who approved the decision for him to return to the MIT.

According to Turkish press reports, Erdogan met the low-profile Fidan -- who is rarely seen let alone heard from in public -- for a closed door meeting on his trip to Saudi Arabia.