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Turkish government sacks 350 Ankara police officers after graft probe

The government in Ankara has reportedly dismissed 350 police force members overnight. This follows a corruption probe targeting key allies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has labeled this "a plot".

Turkish media outlets, including the state-run Anadolu Agency, reported on Tuesday that 350 Ankara police officers woke up without a job, seemingly the latest consequence of a major graft probe targeting Prime Minister Erdogan's government.

The private Dogan News Agency reported that the sackings were published at midnight in a government decree, saying the heads of departments for financial crimes, smuggling, cyber crime and organized crime were among the officers dismissed. It also reported that 250 replacements from elsewhere in the country were immediately drafted into the capital.

The corruption probe against Turkey's government has forced the prime minister into a

cabinet reshuffle

but has also led to several high-profile dismissals among the investigators.

Erdogan has dubbed the investigation a "foreign conspiracy," claiming that it was being orchestrated by followers of Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999. The prime minister said he was battling a "state within a state," saying many Gulen loyalists were occupying important positions in the civil service. The cleric was once a vocal supporter of Erdogan.

Tuesday's dismssals followed hot on the heels of a call from the opposition in Turkey to expand the investigation to

probe ties between Erdogan's son, Bilal, and a Saudi Arabian businessman.

Government and police at loggerheads

Police first moved as part of the probe on December 17, arresting dozens of people including the sons of three former ministers and the chief executive of Turkey's state-run Halkbank. Suspects in the case are accused of various offences such as accepting or facilitating bribes in exchange for granting construction permits or development grants.

Hundreds of police officials have already lost their jobs since the first arrests, including the Istanbul police chief, who was replaced by a little-known regional governor with no police background. The case has

pushed the Turkish lira to all-time lows

and threatens to unsettle the ruling Law and Justice Party (AKP) ahead of local elections in March.

Erdogan has been in office since 2002, his AKP was a dominant force in the last general election in 2011, claiming around half of the popular vote and over half of the available seats.

msh/rg (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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