(Children play at the garden of Fatih College in Istanbul April 16, 2008. REUTERS/Osman Orsal )

A feud between Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and an influential Islamic cleric has spilled into the open months ahead of elections, highlighting fractures in the religiously conservative support base underpinning his decade in power.

Erdogan’s government has incensed followers of Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based Islamic preacher whose supporters say they number in millions, with plans to abolish private ‘prep’ schools many of which are financed and run by Gulen’s movement.

The reclusive cleric drew parallels with the behavior of the secularist military in the build up to past coups.

Gülen has built a global network of schools over the past four decades promoting Turkish language and culture. In doing so, he has established a powerful movement whose members hold influential positions across Turkish society, from the police and judiciary to the central bank, political parties and media.