Turkey's powerful spy chief resigns to become MP

Turkey's powerful spy chief resigns to become MP
This file picture taken on December 19, 2014 shows the head of Turkey's intelligence agency Hakan Fidan (C) standing in Ankara.

ISTANBUL - The powerful head of Turkey's intelligence agency, one of the closest allies of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has resigned to stand for election as a lawmaker, the official Anatolia news agency said Saturday.

The resignation of Hakan Fidan, who has headed the National Intelligence Agency (MIT) since 2010, could herald a major reshuffle of the Turkish government after June 7 legislative elections.

Turkey's press have in the last days speculated feverishly that Fidan's standing as an MP would set him up to become the new foreign minister, a move that would give a higher profile to Turkish diplomacy.

His resignation has been accepted by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and will take effect on Tuesday, Anatolia added.

The move came after Fidan, believed to be in his late 40s, held several hours of closed door meetings with Erdogan and Davutoglu in Ankara last week.

Davutoglu had in a television interview last week lavished praise on Fidan, describing him as "brave and bold and not going back once a step is taken." Seen only occasionally in public and rarely making public comments, Fidan has emerged as one of the most powerful men in Turkey under Erdogan.

As head of the MIT, he has led negotiations with Kurdish militants for an end to a decades-long insurgency and has been a key player in Turkey's policy on the Syria crisis.

He was also instrumental in controversial talks that secured the release in September of almost 50 Turkish diplomats, staff and their families who were kidnapped by Islamic State (IS) jihadists at the Turkish consulate in Mosul in Iraq.

They were reportedly released in exchange for jihadist prisoners but the details have remained unclear due to a media blackout typical of Fidan's behaviour.

'MIT superman'

Under Turkish law, state officials wishing to stand in the elections must resign their posts by February 10.

The legislative election in June is seen as a critical moment in Turkish modern political history, with Erdogan seeking a crushing majority for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that he co-founded.

This would allow the AKP to change the constitution to give Erdogan, who became president in August after over a decade as premier, sweeping new powers as head of state.

Erdogan said on Friday that he wanted 400 supportive lawmakers in the 550-MP parliament to create the "new Turkey" that he plans.

Under Fidan's leadership, the MIT has become one of the most powerful institutions in the country, although its work is unsurprisingly shrouded in mystery.

In a curious sign of dissent at the move, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc questioned the need for Fidan to leave the MIT, saying he had been doing the work of a "superman".

"Personally, I think seeing a person, who was assigned the duty of superman, entering the parliament to become a MP is a waste," he told the CNN-Turk television channel, quoted by Anatolia.

Should Fidan become foreign minister, it is likely the post would gain far greater prominence than it has under incumbent Mevlut Cavusoglu, something that could trouble the West at a time of prickly ties with Ankara.

According to the Anatolia news agency, the favourite to replace Fidan as head of MIT is Muhammed Dervisoglu, a former deputy head of the intelligence body and currently Turkey's counter-terror chief.

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