Turkey's state prosecution service has removed a prosecutor responsible for summoning the head of the spy agency from the case, state media said on Saturday, in an apparent attempt to resolve a row between the government and the judiciary.
On Wednesday, state prosecutors summoned Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey's national intelligence agency, MIT, and other officers to answer questions about secret talks the agency held with the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
MIT has rebuffed the summons and Fidan has so far failed to appear. On Friday, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party moved a parliamentary bill intended to curb the investigation.
The summons, a rare imposition for the powerful agency, has stirred speculation of a power struggle between Erdogan, who controls the service, and elements in the judiciary and police.
On Saturday, Istanbul Deputy Chief Prosecutor Fikret Secen said state prosecutor Sadrettin Sarikaya, one of two prosecutors who had summoned Fidan, had been removed from the case, state-run news agency Anatolian reported on its website.
The report did not give any details as to why Sarikaya had been removed and state prosecution officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Speaking outside the court in Istanbul after his removal, Sarikaya said: This is the chief prosecutor's prerogative ... There is nothing that can be done. We did our duty, Anatolian reported.
At the heart of the current investigation are talks MIT officials held in Oslo with representatives of the PKK, which has been fighting since 1984 for an independent Kurdish homeland in Turkey's southeast. The contacts came to light last year through recordings on the Internet.
Besir Atalay, one of Erdogan's deputies, criticised the summons on Saturday, saying public officials could not be accused for simply carrying out their duties.
This is how the government sees it. The people in question are carrying out their public duty at great sacrifice to themselves. Therefore, to be accused and be summoned like this in the public eye is wrong, Anatolian quoted Atalay as saying.
It is wrong to summon in this way a MIT director who is directly linked to the prime minister without the prime minister's permission and knowledge, he said.
Erdogan, who underwent medical surgery on Friday, has yet to comment on the proceedings. He is expected to resume routine engagements next week.
Atalay said he hoped the parliamentary bill presented on Friday by the ruling AK Party aimed at blocking the summons would be passed next week.
Some have interpreted the targeting of the MIT as a nationalist warning to Erdogan against seeking any negotiated settlement with PKK, whose separatist struggle has led to the death of more than 40,000 people since it began in 1984.
In a country rife with conspiracy theories, some have also suggested an influential Islamic movement, headed by Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim theologian living in the United States, could be seeking to clip Erdogan's wings.
Many Turks would sooner see the PKK defeated militarily rather than negotiate with an organisation that is branded a terrorist group by Ankara, the European Union and United States.
(Writing by Jonathon Burch)