Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to expel foreign ambassadors over "provocative actions," as his government faces unprecedented pressure over a major corruption scandal.
"Some ambassadors are engaged in provocative actions... Do your job," Erdogan said in televised remarks Saturday. "We don't have to keep you in our country."
The harsh words are being seen as a veiled threat to US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, who reportedly told European Union envoys that Washington warned state-owned Halkbank to cut its ties with sanctions-hit Iran.
"We asked Halkbank to cut its links with Iran. They did not listen to us. You are watching the collapse of an empire," Ricciardone is reported to have said, according to numerous Turkish media outlets.
But the American Ambassador has since dismissed the reports as "baseless", in a Turkish-language message on his official Twitter account.
"Nobody should put US-Turkish relations into jeopardy through baseless allegations," he said.
Halkbank has been criticized before in the US over claims it illegally breaching international sanctions imposed on Iran due to the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, but the bank has denied the claims. Its chief executive was recently arrested as part of a wide-reaching corruption scandal that has rocked the Islamist AKP government, in power since 2002.
Suleyman Aslan was arrested along with a number of other high-profile figures Saturday , including the sons of a number of cabinet ministers. He is accused of taking bribes, according to the Hurriyet newspaper. Police also seized $4.5 million in cash at his home, according to Turkish media reports.
Erdogan went on to claim the arrests were part of a conspiracy to undermine his rule.
"There are extremely dirty alliances in this set-up, dark alliances that can't tolerate the new Turkey, the big Turkey. Turkey has never been subjected to such an immoral attack.
"This is an operation ordered by some international groups, and their subcontractors within Turkey are carrying it out, as a step taken against the government. We will not bow down to it," he continued.
This is not the first time the Turkish PM has reacted to domestic crises by blaming foreign conspiracies.