ANKARA, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said on Wednesday a corruption investigation in which 52 people including the sons of three cabinet ministers have been detained was part of a "planned operation" to tarnish the government.
In the first official comments on the investigation from a senior member of the government, Arinc also said politics would not be allowed to stand in the way of the inquiry.
"Our opinion at the moment is that this is a planned operation, which has transformed into a psychological war, to tarnish our government," Arinc told a news conference.
He did not elaborate on who might be behind such an effort, but said that his comments were not aimed at the movement of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers are influential in the police and judiciary.
Tensions have grown in recent months between Erdogan's government and Gulen's Hizmet (Service) movement over plans to close private "Prep" schools, including those run by Hizmet. The schools, part of a network with global reach, are an important source of revenue and bedrock of Hizmet's influence.
"It is incorrect to associate a meaning to my comments that would create a confrontation with the community," he said, referring to Gulen's movement, whose followers say they number in the millions.
Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics since he was first elected in 2002 and remains by far the most popular politician. The summer, however, saw unprecedented protests against Erdogan over what some critics see as an increasingly authoritarian style of government.
(Reporting by Gulsen Solaker, Humeyra Pamuk and Seda Sezer; Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Ralph Boulton)