ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan urged Turkey’s parliament on Wednesday to legislate to curb the influence of medical associations and other institutions that have criticised his government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
His broadside against the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) came after months of warnings by the group that official figures underplay the true scale of the pandemic, especially Ankara’s decision to report only symptomatic cases of COVID-19.
The TTB has called for more transparency and coordination from the government, as well as more aggressive measures to contain the outbreak and protect medical workers.
The government has defended its response and said the public sees the key case figures.
In a speech to members of his AK Party, Erdogan said the TTB and other professional associations “are clearly acting in a way that is against the constitution” and the matter has “reached an unbearable level”.
He proposed a regulatory change similar to one in July that allowed multiple bar associations in a single city. Lawyers criticised the move as the latest in a series of steps to erode the judiciary’s independence.
Erdogan said on Wednesday the regulatory change would allow better representation of doctors than through solely the TTB, and should be enacted swiftly as a top priority for parliament.
His AK Party has a majority with the support of the nationalist MHP whose leader, Devlet Bahceli, last month accused the TTB of treachery and called for it to be shut down.
Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have criticised what they see as increasing authoritarianism and threats to the rule of law under Erdogan, especially since a 2016 coup attempt that prompted sweeping crackdowns on his perceived opponents in public services, the military and elsewhere.
Turkish authorities have rejected the accusations, saying the measures were necessary for national security.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Can Sezer; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Mark Heinrich)