ANKARA Jan 18 Turkey has extended a purge of
official bodies to the banking and telecoms regulators and state
TV, firing dozens of executives in moves that appear to broaden
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's backlash against a corruption
The authorities have already sacked thousands of police
officers, dozens of prosecutors and some state television
officials in response to the corruption investigation, which has
become the biggest challenge to Erdogan's 11-year rule.
Investigators are believed to have been looking into
allegations of corruption at a state-run bank and bribery
involving big real estate projects, although details of their
charges have not been made public.
The combative prime minister says the investigations, which
began a month ago with arrests of high profile figures including
the sons of three of his cabinet ministers, are part of an
attempted "judicial coup".
His opponents say they fear a purge of official bodies will
destroy the independence of the judiciary, police and media.
Among dozens of officials dismissed in the latest sackings,
Turkish media reported on Saturday that the deputy head of the
banking watchdog BDDK and two department heads had been removed.
Five department chiefs were fired at the Telecommunications
Directorate (TIB), a body that carries out electronic
surveillance as well as serving as telecoms regulator, and a
dozen people were fired at Turkey's state channel TRT, including
department heads and senior news editors.
Erdogan has suggested the graft inquiry, which has led to
the resignation of three cabinet ministers and detention of
businessmen close to the government, is an attempt by Fethullan
Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric with influence among the police and
judiciary, to undermine his rule.
Many of the people who have been fired are believed to be
associated with the cleric's Hizmet movement, which claims more
than a million followers and runs schools and charities
Earlier in the week the government reassigned twenty
high-profile prosecutors, stepping up the purge of the
The government has also prepared a draft bill to tighten its
grip on High Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), a panel
that controls the appointment of all judges and prosecutors.
There were heated discussions and even fights among members
of parliament during talks over the draft bill last week.
Erdogan, who has presided over an extended economic boom
that has transformed Turkey and lifted millions of people from
poverty, remains the country's most popular politician.
He and his moderate Islamist AK Party have long battled for
influence against the secularist military establishment that
dominated Turkey for a century. His conflict with the judiciary,
police and Gulen followers add to his list of enemies.
It is still not clear what effect the crisis might have an
local elections approaching in March. Last year saw mass street
demonstrations among Turks who accuse the prime minister of
authoritarianism, but those protests did little to undermine
Erdogan's support among his conservative base of followers.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Peter Graff)