Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday slammed a Constitutional Court decision to annul the first-round vote in the presidential election as "a bullet fired at democracy," but then backed down saying his remarks were not aimed at the court.
"We respect the decision of the Constitutional Court, (but) it will be much debated from the legal point of view," Erdogan told members of his Justice and Development Party in parliament.
"The election of a president in parliament has been blocked, the election of presidents has been made almost impossible in future parliaments from now on.
"And you know what is it at the same time? It is a bullet fired at democracy," he said.
His remarks prompted a strong response from the Constitutional Court, which warned that the prime minister was committing a crime by criticising court rulings.
Erdogan's remarks are "irresponsible, go beyond their original intent and turn the institution into a target," the court statement said.
The court Tuesday cancelled the first-round vote in Turkey's turbulent presidential elections on the grounds that the 550-member parliament started voting without the required quorum of a two-thirds majority.
Questioned by reporters about the court's reaction, Erdogan said his words were aimed not at the tribunal, but at Deniz Baykal. Baykal is the chairman of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), which had petitioned the court to annul the vote.
Baykal had said ahead of the ruling that Turkey would plunge into conflict if the court did not cancel the vote.
"My words were directed completely at Mr. Baykal," the Anatolia news agency quoted Erdogan as saying. "Why would I otherwise say that I respect the ruling? ... The ruling has been made, we must respect it."
In its statement Wednesday, the court also criticised Baykal's remarks.
Both statements violated the independence of the judiciary and were crimes under the penal code, it said.
The CHP had petitioned the court with the intention of blocking the election of the sole presidential candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, and forcing early elections. They object to Gul because of his Islamist background.
Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), the moderate offshoot of a now-banned Islamist movement, holds the majority in parliament with 351 members. But it does not have the two-thirds majority of 367 that the court said was required for voting to begin in Friday's session.
The opposition had boycotted the vote.
Following Tuesday's ruling, the AKP called for early general elections in June and said it would also submit a package of constitutional amendments, including a far-reaching reform for a popular vote to elect the president.