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Turkey expands powers of national intelligence agency

Turkish President Abdullah Gül has approved a bill that gives the country's main spy agency, MIT, greater powers. Opposition parties say the law will turn Turkey into a surveillance state.

The new bill, which was passed by parliament last week, expands the powers of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) to include eavesdropping rights, wider access to consumer data and the ability to conduct more operations abroad.

It will also introduce prison terms for the publication of secret documents and gives agents greater immunity from prosecution.

While the government says the law will make the MIT more efficient, the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) says it will turn Turkey into a surveillance state. "The new legislation will destroy the last scraps of democracy and law left in Turkey," CHP lawmaker Atilla Kart said last week.

The CHP has vowed to fight the new bill in court.

The legislation is the latest step by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to tighten his grip on state agencies. His government has been embroiled in a corruption scandal since last December. Erdogan says the corruption claims are "fabricated" and part of a campaign by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his followers to discredit the government.

Rift with judiciary

Erdogan has given the justice minister increased powers over the judiciary, tightened government controls over the Internet, temporarily shut down Twitter and YouTube and removed thousands of police officers and prosecutors from duty.

Turkey's highest court overturned the Twitter ban and

annulled the justice minister's authority over the judiciary

.

Erdogan has accused parts of the judiciary and the police of being under the sway of Gulen, leading to a rift between the government and the judiciary. On Friday, the

head of the Constitutional Court, Hasim Kilic, sharply criticized political criticism

which he said had traumatized and divided the judiciary.

"To say that the Constitutional Court acts with a political agenda or to blame it for not being patriotic is shallow criticism," chief judge Kilic said in a televised speech.

Despite the corruption scandal and the concerns over what many see as undemocratic measures by Erdogan's government, his AKP party won a resounding victory in local elections on March 30.

ng/jm (dpa, AFP, AP)

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