Turkey sacks hundreds of police

The Turkish government has fired 350 police officers in Ankara, the latest twist in a vast corruption scandal that has ensnared key allies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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The officers were sacked by a government decree published at midnight and included chiefs of the financial crimes, anti-smuggling, cyber crime and organised crime units, the private Dogan News Agency reported on Tuesday.

The move comes as the government is trying to contain the massive political fallout from the graft probe that has become the biggest threat to Erdogan’s 11-year rule ahead of local elections in March.

The turmoil has added to pressures on the already volatile economy, with the national currency plunging to all-time lows as investors become spooked.

Erdogan has branded the investigation a “dirty” plot to try to topple his government, blaming supporters of a powerful exiled Muslim cleric who wields considerable influence in the judiciary.

Dozens of leading businessmen and political figures – including the sons of three ministers – were rounded up in a massive sweep in Ankara and Istanbul in December.

The once-unassailable Turkish strongman responded by sacking hundreds of police officials across the country, including the powerful Istanbul police chief.

Erdogan’s critics accuse him of desperately trying to protect his cronies, and the appointment of Selami Altinok, a little-known governor with no background in police work, as Istanbul’s new police chief was further seen as an attempt to shut down the investigation.

With the latest round of dismissals, the total number of police officers removed from their posts has risen to 560 in Ankara alone, according to media reports.

Prominent prosecutor Muammer Akkas was also barred last month from expanding the investigation – which could also reportedly target Erdogan’s son Bilal – over allegations he leaked information to the media.

The corruption crisis erupted on December 17 when police arrested dozens of people including sons of former ministers and the chief executive of Turkey’s state-run Halkbank.

They are suspected of numerous offences including bribery for construction projects and illicit money transfers to sanctions-hit Iran.

Police have conducted further raids in five cities and detained 25 people on suspicion of bribery and fraud in tenders for construction projects, including civil servants from the Turkish rail authority TCDD and the western port of Izmir, local media said.

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