Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was being battered on all fronts yesterday, as a graft scandal savaging his government sparked party resignations, fresh street protests and pushed the currency to a record low.
But the premier, who is credited with a decade of economic prosperity in Turkey despite increasingly being seen as autocratic, was defiantly holding on to power, even as the stakes piled up.
He told supporters of his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) that the corruption probe, which has already taken down part of his cabinet and several high-profile political and business figures, was a "smear campaign" orchestrated by outside forces.
Yesterday, three lawmakers quit the AKP. One of them, former culture minister Ertugrul Gunay, said the party was being directed by "arrogance".
Later, rallies were held in Ankara and Istanbul with protesters yelling "Government, resign!".
In Istanbul, police fired water cannon and plastic bullets to disperse hundreds of demonstrators.
In Ankara, some protesters were seen holding up empty shoe boxes -- a reference to media images of boxes stuffed with cash found at the homes of one of the corruption suspects.
Erdogan has tried to contain the fall-out, but to little avail.
On Wednesday, after his interior, economy and environment resigned -- with the latter also calling for the premier to follow suit -- Erdogan reshuffled nearly half his cabinet.
He has also ordered the firing of dozens of police chiefs and decreeing that investigating police to inform their superiors before launching investigations demanded by public prosecutors.
One public prosecutor on Thursday said police and prosecution chiefs were blocking the expanding inquiry by refusing to carry out arrest warrants.
But Turkey's top court yesterday blocked the government decree, which it said would cause "irrevocable damage".
Pro-government media had suggested the corruption inquiry could be a setup to trigger a military coup.
But the army, seen as guarantor of the country's secular traditions, made it clear yesterday that it would not get involved.
"The Turkish Armed Forces do not want to get involved in political debates," the army said in a statement posted on its website.
The backdrop to the crisis is a power struggle between Erdogan and former ally Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Turkish cleric who is hugely influential at home and whose followers hold key positions in the judiciary and the police.
"The cabinet reshuffle may contain the fire for now but it will not put it out," wrote columnist Huseyin Gulerce in the Zaman daily affiliated with Gulen.
Erdogan is seen as increasingly struggling under the scandal, which has damaged his unstated hopes of running for president in 2014 elections.