Turkey finance minister blames lira slide on social media manipulation

Turkish Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak appeared on Turkish television on Friday evening to deny that Turkey’s economy is in trouble despite a sharp drop in the lira throughout the day, blaming this on “speculative attacks” and linking it to anti-government protests that took place almost six years ago.

“Turkey today is heading for (March 31 local) elections, and there’s been a disinformation campaign, especially on social media, similar to what we’ve seen lately, particularly during the Gezi (Park protests in 2013),” Albayrak said on the pro-government channel A Haber.

The minister came to the televised interview armed with cardboard cut-outs, one of which showed growth in GDP under Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule up to high-income economy status before a sustained drop after May 2013, when the Gezi Park protests broke out.

The protests were initially called by environmentalists opposing the demolition of a park in central Istanbul, but spread across the nation the following month after footage of harsh police interventions spread on social media. The AKP says they were organised in an attempt to overthrow the government with support from foreign actors.

The lira’s slide of over 4 percent on Friday to over 5.8 against the dollar, which followed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s condemnation on Friday morning of his U.S. counterpart’s support for Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, was the largest since last August, when another diplomatic feud with the United States sent the country into a currency crisis. The AKP blamed last August’s crisis on foreign manipulation.

Despite the “speculative attacks” by unnamed actors, Turkey has made strides in leaving behind its economic vulnerabilities and is on the verge of a rosy period, Albayrak said.

“We’ll announce our roadmap in April. We have taken steps in the last few months that would have taken eight or nine months. The outlook after the elections is extremely positive,” he said.

The minister’s claims jarred with statements by the central bank, which published data on Thursday showing an unexpected $6.3 billion drop in foreign currency reserves over two weeks, leaving reserves at $28.5 billion.

The bank announced on Friday it would suspend one-day repo auctions for an undefined period.

The erosion of reserves, which outstrips the Treasury’s $3.8 billion external debt payments scheduled for March, has aroused suspicions that the central bank may be trying to support the Turkish lira, Bloomberg reported.