ANKARA — Turkish politicians threw punches and water bottles during a debate on Saturday about government control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors, as a feud over the ruling party's handling of a corruption scandal intensified.
One MP leapt on a table and threw a flying kick as others wrestled and punched at each other, with document folders, plastic water bottles and even an iPad flying through the air, a Reuters correspondent in the room said.
Parliament's justice commission was gathering to discuss a draft bill from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party to give it more say over the judiciary when the scuffles broke out.
The fight erupted when a representative of a judicial association arrived with a petition arguing the bill was anti-constitutional but he was not allowed to speak, witnesses said.
"If I am being kicked at here as a representative of the judiciary, all prosecutors and judges will be trampled on when this law passes," a ruffled Omer Faruk Eminagaoglu, head of the YARSAV professional association, said after the ruckus.
Erdogan has cast the wide-ranging corruption investigation, which poses one of the biggest challenges of his 11-year rule, as an attempted "judicial coup" meant to undermine him in the run-up to local and presidential elections this year.
He has responded by purging the police force of hundreds of officers and seeking tighter control over the judiciary.
One of Turkey's most senior legal figures joined the opposition on Friday in warning the AK Party its proposed reforms to the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) would breach the constitution.
Ahmet Hamsici, deputy chairman of the HSYK, said greater government control over the body responsible for naming judges and prosecutors would contravene the basic principle of the separation of powers.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, who was in the room when the punches were thrown, hinted that the AK Party might back down if the opposition agreed instead to changes in parts of the constitution governing the judiciary.
"If all political parties agree on a change in articles and announce it, it could be we withdraw this draft law," he said.
The affair has helped drive the lira currency to new lows and has shaken investor confidence in a country whose stability has largely derived from Erdogan's strong grip on power.
The U.S. State Department said this week it supported the Turkish people's desire for a transparent legal system, while the EU warned Turkey, a candidate for membership of the bloc, about threats to judicial independence.
10,000 RALLY IN THE STREETS
Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Turkey's capital Ankara Saturday in protest against Erdogan's government, which has been rocked by a vast corruption probe.
As Erdogan arrived home after a week-long tour to Asia, about 20,000 protesters gathered at Ankara's major Sihhiye Square, chanting "revolution will clean this filth" and "they are thieves."
Some protesters were also handing out fake dollars with Erdogan's photo on them.
The corruption scandal implicating close allies of Erdogan has rattled his government to its core, and poses the biggest challenge to his 11-year rule.
It erupted on December 17, when several public figures, including high-profile businessmen and the sons of three ministers, were detained over allegations of bribery for construction projects as well as illicit money transfers to sanctions-hit Iran.
Forced into a major cabinet reshuffle after the three concerned ministers resigned, the firebrand prime minister has responded angrily to the probe, calling it a "dirty plot" to discredit his government.
He sacked hundreds of police chiefs in a major purge and has moved to curb the powers of the judiciary.