ISTANBUL // Turkey launched a mass new purge of the police and judiciary on Wednesday as parliament debates controversial reforms that have heightened the crisis engulfing prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Around 470 police were sacked or reassigned in the capital Ankara, local media reported, in the latest fallout from a corruption scandal targeting several top politicians and business leaders including Mr Erdogan’s allies.
In the western port city of Izmir, a dozen police chiefs were removed from their posts, Dogan news agency reported.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) had removed 96 judges and prosecutors from their jobs.
The shakeups came as Mr Erdogan, on a visit to Brussels to try to advance Turkey’s EU membership bid, defended government moves to tighten its control of the judiciary.
Those falling victim of the latest purge include five chief prosecutors and other senior figures who oversaw the trials against hundreds of top military officers convicted of plotting against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
At least 2,000 police and prosecutors have been dismissed or reassigned in recent weeks in what critics have blasted as government efforts to stifle the graft probe.
The purge extended to the other sectors at the weekend, with the dismissal of high-ranking officials at the top banking watchdog, communications regulatory body and state television.
Dozens of people including the sons of ministers, and business leaders were rounded up a month ago on allegations of bribery in construction projects, money laundering, gold smuggling and illicit dealings with Iran, setting off the worst crisis in Mr Erdogan’s 11-year rule.
But the prime minister insists it is a “coup plot” by supporters of exiled Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, a onetime AKP supporter, to destabilise the government ahead of March local elections.
The turmoil has also had a major impact on the economy, sending the lira tumbling to record lows almost daily and jeopardising government growth targets.
In Brussels, the prime minister refused to budge on the reforms despite EU concerns about the threat to the independence of the judiciary, a key criteria for membership of the European club.
“The judiciary should not go beyond its defined mission and mandate. This is what we’re doing. Anything else is misinformation and disinformation,” Mr Erdogan said at a news conference.
“Certain recommendations have been made by our European friends and we have taken them into account,” he said.
“Other modifications possibly will be made,” he added, without elaborating. “But the law must come into force as quickly as possible.”
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said he had urged Mr Erdogan “not to backtrack on achievements and to assure that the judiciary is able to function without discrimination or preference, in a transparent and impartial manner”.
Parliament started Wednesday debating the bill, which notably calls for a greater government say in appointments at the HSYK, the country’s top independent judicial body.
The corruption scandal has sparked new protests against Mr Erdogan after he faced down a wave of nationwide anti-government demonstrations in June.
Turks have come out on to the streets to demand his resignation over the corruption scandal and what many see as his increasingly authoritarian rule, including recent moves to clamp down on the Internet.
Human Rights Watch said in a report on Tuesday that the AKP party had demonstrated “growing intolerance of political opposition, public protest and critical media”.
In the wake of the latest crisis, the government has sought to repair ties with the army despite its long campaign to rein in the military’s powers.
Mr Erdogan has said he would not oppose the idea of possible retrials for hundreds of military officers who were convicted in 2012 and 2013 for plotting to topple his government.
The trials succeeded in meeting EU-demanded reforms by clipping the wings of the military, which led coups against three previous administrations since 1960 as self-declared guardians of the secular state.
* Agence France-Presse