Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced a major reshuffle in his cabinet. The decision came hours after three senior ministers resigned over a corruption investigation.
Roughly half of Turkey's cabinet members were replaced on Wednesday following the resignation of three senior ministers earlier in the day. Prime Minister Erdogan announced the government reshuffle in a televised address after a special late-night meeting with President Abdullah Gul.
"The Turkish people and the Turkish republic are facing an attack that is being presented as a corruption probe. Everybody is aware that this is not a corruption probe but an obvious conspiracy - a set up against Turkish politics and the Turkish people," Erdogan said in a televised address on Wednesday.
Turkey's EU affairs minister, Egemen Bagis, was among those tapped to step down. Bagis was implicated in the graft scandal at the root of Wednesday's high-level resignations, but he has never been formally charged.
Earlier on Wednesday, three cabinet members resigned in response to a corruption scandal centering on state-run lender Halkbank. Interior Minister Muammer Guler and Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan relinquished their posts first, followed several hours later by Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar.
The latest chapter in the scandal prompted clashes between police and protesters in Istanbul, who had taken to the streets on Wednesday to demand Prime Minister Erdogan's resignation.
The probe includes three separate bribery investigations and has led to 24 arrests, including the sons of both Caglayan and Guler. The environment minister's son had also been detained briefly.
Halkbank has been a source of friction between the United States and Turkey over allegations that it was involved in facilitating illegal sanctions-breaking trade with Iran. The scandal has badly affected the Turkish economy, pushing the national currency - the Turkish lira - to record lows against the US dollar.
'A dirty set-up'
Prime Minister Erdogan and members of his government have denounced the investigations as an attempt to undermine their power by aiming at the premier's closest allies.
Both Interior Minister Guler and Economy Minister Caglayan said the scandal was an orchestrated effort to create discord in Turkey by discrediting Prime Minister Erdogan's government.
"I have resigned from my post of economy minister to help the truth to come out and to foil this ugly plot, which has impacted my child and my close work colleagues among others," Caglayan said in a statement on Wednesday.
In a separate statement, Interior Minister Guler called the affair "a dirty set-up against our government, party and country."
Erdogan has responded to the scandal by sacking dozens of high-ranking police officials.
Turkish President Gul - who is aligned with Erdogan's own Justice and Development Party (AKP) - has also condemned the investigation as "political plotting," but concedes that allegations of bribery should not be covered up. He said the investigation would be judged in independent courts.
kms/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)