Turkey replaces most province police chiefs, shake-up continues

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish authorities have replaced three quarters of provincial police heads, the Official Gazette showed on Wednesday, part of a sweeping crackdown that began in July after a failed coup.

Since the coup attempt, Turkey has arrested 35,000 people and sacked or suspended more than 100,000 others in the civil service, judiciary, police and elsewhere.

Ankara says it wants to root out supporters of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen whom it blames for masterminding the coup attempt. Gulen denies the charge.

Turkish officials have said the interior ministry has ramped up efforts to purge the police and state institutions after the appointment at the end of August of a new minister Suleyman Soylu, seen as close to President Tayyip Erdogan.

The police chiefs of 61 of Turkey’s 81 provinces have been reassigned to positions outside their provinces, according to the decree published in the Official Gazette. It did not say when the reassignment went into effect.

Separately, authorities detained 81 police officers in Istanbul, the privately owned Dogan news agency reported. The Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office has issued arrest warrants for 125 police officers and raids were underway to capture the remaining officers, Dogan said.

Prosecutors in the Aegean city of Izmir have also issued arrest warrants for 55 people as part of the investigations, Dogan reported. Police has already detained 30 people including academics and students in a raid at the province’s largest university, it said.

The reach of the crackdown has worried rights groups and some of Turkey’s Western allies, who fear that Erdogan is using the failed coup as a pretext to curtain dissent.

Reporting by Orhan Coskun; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by David Dolan and Raissa Kasolowsky