Hundreds of Turkish police officers dismissed

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Turkish riot police in Ankara (file photo)Image source, AP
Image caption,
The Ankara police shake-up is the largest so far

Turkey has removed 350 police officers from their posts in the capital Ankara, following a corruption probe targeting people close to the government.

Officials, mostly from outside the city, are to replace them.

Hundreds of police have been dismissed or reassigned across the country since last month's corruption investigation. Three cabinet ministers resigned after their sons were detained in the raids.

The prime minister has accused the police and judiciary of a "dirty plot".

The arrests were carried out as part of an inquiry into alleged bribery involving public tenders, which included controversial building projects in Istanbul.

Those detained in the 17 December raids included more than 50 public officials and businessmen - all allies of the prime minister.

The sons of two ex-ministers and the chief executive of the state-owned bank, Halkbank, are still in police custody.

'Political plotting'

The latest round of police dismissals and reassignments were carried out under a government decree published at midnight.

Those removed from their posts include chiefs of the financial crimes, anti-smuggling and organised crime units, the private Dogan News Agency reported.

The move comes as the government is trying to contain the political fall-out from the corruption inquiry.

Many believe the arrests and dismissals reflect a feud within Turkey's ruling AK Party between those who back Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, an influential Islamic scholar living in self-imposed exile in the US.

Members of Mr Gulen's Hizmet movement are said to hold influential positions in institutions such as the police, the judiciary and the AK Party itself.

For years, Mr Gulen's loyalists (known as Gulenists) broadly lined up with Mr Erdogan, sharing his belief of a greater role for Islam in Turkey's secular state, says the BBC's James Reynolds in Istanbul.

The movement helped Mr Erdogan to win three general elections.

Crucially, an undeclared Gulenist network in the judiciary and the police helped the government to remove the military from politics, our correspondent says.

But, unhappy with the way Mr Erdogan dealt with the Gezi Park protesters, and angered by government plans to close a number of Hizmet-run schools, our correspondent says that many in Turkey believe that the Gulenist network has now gone after the prime minister's allies - a charge the movement itself denies.

Turkey's army has said it does not want to get involved in political arguments, in response to rumours of a coup plot.

'Organised opponent'

The scandal has prompted anti-government protests in Turkey's main cities in recent weeks but Mr Erdogan has pledged to fight on in what is seen as the biggest challenge to his government in his 11 years in office.

Image source, Reuters
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Mr Erdogan has positioned himself as a potential presidential candidate

He has called the corruption investigation a "smear campaign" and urged his supporters to vote for his AK Party in upcoming local elections.

Turkey's lira has fallen to a new low against the dollar.

The European Union - which Turkey hopes to join - has urged Ankara to address the corruption allegations in an "impartial manner".

This summer, Turkey will vote for a new president.

Over the past year, Mr Erdogan has positioned himself as a potential candidate but analysts say he now faces an organised opponent within the system he has dominated for a decade.