Turkey purges regulators, state TV in graft probe backlash
ANKARA: Turkey has extended a purge of official bodies to the banking and telecoms regulators and state TV, firing dozens of executives in moves that appear to broaden Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's backlash against a corruption investigation.
The authorities have already reassigned thousands of police officers and about 20 prosecutors, and fired some state television officials in response to the corruption investigation, the biggest challenge to Erdogan's 11-year rule.
Investigators are believed to have been looking into allegations of corruption and bribery involving trade in gold with Iran and big real estate projects, although full details of their charges have not been made public.
The combative prime minister says the investigations, which began a month ago with arrests of high profile figures including the sons of three of his cabinet ministers, are part of an attempted "judicial coup".
His opponents say they fear a purge of official bodies will destroy the independence of the judiciary, police and media.
"It's like reformatting a computer. They are changing the whole system and people in various positions to protect the government," said Akin Unver, assistant professor of International Relations in Istanbul-based Kadir Has University.
Among dozens of officials dismissed in the latest sackings, Turkish media reported on Saturday that the deputy head of the banking watchdog BDDK and two department heads had been removed.
Five department chiefs were fired at the Telecommunications Directorate (TIB), a body that carries out electronic surveillance as well as serving as telecoms regulator, and a dozen people were fired at Turkey's state channel TRT, including department heads and senior news editors.
A government official said the firings were carried out for "the benefit of the public" and more could come: "Right now we are working on this issue and if we identify cases problematic to the public's benefit, more dismissals could be considered."
Pictures of money-counting machines and reports of cash stacked in the homes of people linked to the graft probe have caused uproar among the Turkish public.
Unver said the aim of the purge at the telecommunications watchdog could be to prevent further videos and pictures being published on the Internet by tightening the government's grip.
"They are seeking a monolithic structure over the Internet," he said.