March 1, 2014

AFP - Turkey's parliament has passed a bill to close down thousands
of private schools, many of which are run by an influential Muslim
cleric embroiled in a bitter feud with the government.

In a late-night session on Friday, lawmakers in the 550-seat house
voted 226 for and 22 against the bill which sets 1 September, 2015
as the deadline to shut down the network of schools.

The row between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his former
ally, cleric Fethullah Gulen, erupted in November when government
first floated the idea of shutting down the schools, a major source
of income for Gulen's Hizmet movement.

In December a corruption scandal erupted in which dozens of Erdogan's
allies were detained in police raids on allegations of bribery in
construction projects, gold smuggling and illicit dealings with Iran.

Erdogan accused so-called Gulenists implanted in Turkey's police
and judiciary of being behind the graft probe in a bid to undermine
his government.

He retaliated by sacking hundreds of police and prosecutors believed
to be linked to the movement run by Gulen, who lives in self-imposed
exile in the United States.

The corruption crisis, which dragged down four ministers and prompted a
cabinet shake-up, has rattled the feathers of Erdogan's Islamic-rooted
government ahead of a highly-charged election year beginning with
key local polls in March.

Government has also accused Gulenists of wiretapping thousands of
influential people - including the prime minister, the spy chief
and journalists.

The schools law comes on the heels of several other measures driven by
Erdogan's government, which has pushed through legislation tightening
state control over the Internet and the judiciary, generating criticism
at home and abroad and raising questions about the state of democracy
in Turkey.

Gulen, who has been living in the United States since 1999 to escape
charges of plotting against the secular state by the then-government,
has denied any involvement in the corruption probe.

Gulen's Hizmet (Service) movement - which describes itself as a global,
social and cultural movement inspired by Islamic ideals - is active
in education with around 4,000 private schools in Turkey as well as
more than 500 around the world, mostly in the United States of America.