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Turkey's police purge reaches top ranks as Erdogan seeks tighter grip on judiciary

Erdogan's government sought to tighten its grip on the judiciary and continued to dismiss police officers amid a corruption scandal.

Turkey corruption scandal january 2014Enlarge
A Turkish protester holds up a placard reading "Only revolution can clear this corruption" as other chant slogans during a demonstration against the goverment on December 30, 2013 in Istanbul. (OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

A corruption scandal that has rocked Turkey since December continued on Wednesday, with the government firing police chiefs in 16 provinces.

The purge reached the top ranks of the country's police force, with the sacking of deputy police chief Muammer Bucak. He was the most senior commander yet targeted.

Dogan news agency reported that among the police chiefs dismissed in an interior ministry decree were those from several big cities including Ankara, Izmir, Antalya and Diyarbakir.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has cast the graft investigation, which poses arguably the biggest challenge to his 11-year rule, as an attempted "judicial coup" contrived by an Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who exercises broad, if covert, influence in the judiciary and police.

Late on Tuesday, Erdogan's AK Party sent plans to parliament which would give the government more say over the appointment of judges and prosecutors, the latest salvo in its battle against a damaging corruption inquiry.

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The ruling party bill, published on parliament's official website, proposes changes to the structure of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the body responsible for appointments in the judiciary, which Erdogan has criticized since the corruption scandal erupted last month.

It allows the undersecretary of the justice minister to be elected as chairman of the HSYK board, a move which would give the government a tighter grip over the choice of judges.

"No-one should remain unsupervised. In this country, the prime minister will be supervised, ministers will be supervised, parliament members will be supervised, but not these gentlemen?" he told a rally of supporters on December 29.

"This is not how it works," he said.

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Erdogan and Gulen's Hizmet movement, which exercises influence through a network of contacts built on sponsorship of schools and other social and media organizations, accuse each other of manipulating the police and judiciary. Hizmet denies unleashing the corruption investigation.

The government has purged hundreds of police, among them senior commanders, since the graft scandal erupted on December 17 with the detention of dozens of people including businessmen close to the government and three cabinet ministers' sons.

The battle has heightened concern about the erosion of judicial independence in Turkey, which could in the longer term also damage its bid for membership of the European Union.

Ratings agency Fitch warned on Tuesday that "strains on institutional integrity" caused by tensions between the government and judiciary were among the factors which could weaken Turkey's creditworthiness.

"All this will act as a drag on investment, growth and development, while weighing against the EU accession drive," said Timothy Ash, head of emerging markets at Standard Bank.

"The perception in the EU will be that Turkey has gone backwards over the past year or so in terms of basic EU values and principle such as democratic freedoms, the rule of law, independence of the judiciary ... This has been a gift to Turkey's opponents and critics in Europe."

(Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Ralph Boulton)

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/turkey/140108/erdogan-seeks-tighter-grip-judiciary-amid-turkey-corrupti