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Turkey purges police force

By Ivan Watson and Gul Tuysuz, CNN
updated 11:44 AM EST, Tue January 7, 2014
Turkish riot police patrol Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul amid clashes with protesters on December 27.
Turkish riot police patrol Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul amid clashes with protesters on December 27.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: News agency says officers removed in Ankara and at least nine other Turkish cities
  • Most of the purged police "were appointed to the traffic unit," state broadcaster reports
  • The mass reassignments come amid reports of new police raids in a corruption case
  • Firings, reassignments began after police detained dozens in anti-corruption case last month

Istanbul (CNN) -- In what appears to be a broader government purge of Turkey's police force, 350 police officers were removed from their positions in the capital of Ankara on Tuesday.

Police commanders were also removed from their posts in at least nine other cities around the country, the semiofficial Anadolu news agency reported.

According to Turkish state media reports, most of the police officers affected were working in departments that battle terrorism, smuggling and organized crime.

"The majority of the chiefs and police in question were appointed to the traffic unit," state broadcaster TRT reported on its website.

The mass reassignment of police officers came amid reports of a fresh wave of police raids targeting suspects in a corruption case in the port city of Izmir.

Turkish police use water cannons on crowds
Political turmoil in Turkey

The Turkish government first began firing and reassigning scores of police officers last month, after police detained dozens of suspects closely linked to the government in an anti-corruption investigation.

Amid corruption inquiry, Turkish prosecutor slams police

Police reportedly found large amounts of cash and a money counting machine in the home of the son of the interior minister, as well as shoe boxes full of cash in the residence of the director of the state-owned HalkBank.

On December 25, at least four Cabinet ministers implicated in the corruption scandal were forced to resign as part of a larger Cabinet reshuffle.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the investigation. He has repeatedly said it is part of an "international conspiracy" aimed at toppling his government. Erdogan also criticized police who carried out the raids, accusing them of operating outside the chain of command.

The government removed several prosecutors overseeing the investigation and briefly banned journalists from entering police stations.

In a highly unusual news conference last month, one of those prosecutors accused the government of obstructing the investigation and allowing suspects to flee and tamper with evidence.

Turkish police fire plastic bullets as anti-government protests rage

Other observers are sounding the alarm about the independence of the judiciary in Turkey, which is both a member of the NATO military alliance and a nation that's negotiating to join the European Union.

"The future of law enforcement, the separation of powers, the constitution is in danger," said Suat Kiniklioglu, a former member of parliament from Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party.

Kiniklioglu said the purge of the police force was part of the broader power struggle under way in Turkey between Erdogan and one of his former allies, a Turkish Muslim cleric who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.

"The government is trying to remove police officers it thinks are close to the Fethullah Gulen group from positions where they could launch investigations into other corruption cases," Kiniklioglu told CNN.

Gulen is the spiritual leader of an international empire of universities, businesses and media organizations. Until recently, he and his movement provided influential support to Erdogan during the prime minister's decade in power. Throughout this political alliance, some supporters of the reclusive cleric are believed to have assumed key positions in the Turkish police and judiciary.

Last month's arrests turned simmering tensions between Erdogan and Gulen into an open verbal war between the two most charismatic leaders of moderate political Islam in Turkey.

Erdogan and his deputies have openly denounced what they call a parallel state operating within the Turkish government bureaucracy.

Gulen has responded in a fiery video sermon announcing, "Those who don't see the thief but go after those trying to catch the thief, who don't see the murder but try to defame others by accusing innocent people, then may God bring fire to their houses, ruin their homes, break their unity."

The scandal has rattled Turkish markets. This week, the Turkish lira plunged to a record low against the dollar.

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