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Erdogan transforms neighborhood watchmen into loyalist force

Turkish lawmakers are considering a bill to empower the country's controversial neighborhood watch in what critics say is a ploy to give the president a vigilante force under his direct control.
A member of Turkish police special forces takes part in a drug raid in Istanbul, Turkey, January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal - RC152BEC12B0

Turkey's parliament will resume debating a controversial bill this week augmenting the powers of a neighborhood watch force that critics charge is linked to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ongoing efforts to stamp out all dissent and cement one-man rule.

If the legislation is adopted, an existing force of around 28,500 neighborhood watchmen will have the right to frisk citizens, demand identification, search their cars and use their weapons and force if needed. The vagueness of their expanded mandate, which includes “preventing crimes” and “preventing public gatherings deemed to disrupt public order” as well as “locating” individuals wanted by the police, has raised alarm. The bill says the implementation of its articles fall directly under the authority of the president.

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