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Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan reshuffles Cabinet after resignations

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Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan reshuffles Cabinet after resignations
Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan reshuffles Cabinet after resignations

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reshuffled his Cabinet on Wednesday after three Ministers resigned amid a corruption probe, Anadolu news agency reported.

Mr. Erdogan named new Economy, Environment and Interior Ministers to replace the officials who had resigned. He also replaced European Union Minister Egemen Bagis, who has been accused of involvement in the corruption scandal, but had not resigned.

Mr. Erdogan announced a total of 10 new Ministers in his 26-member cabinet.

Three Cabinet Ministers resigned on Wednesday, following a high-level corruption investigation in which their sons, businessmen and bureaucrats were arrested.

Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan spoke of a conspiracy against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and Interior Minister Muammer Guler said he had offered to resign on December 17, 2013 the day of the arrests.

The last to step down was Erdogan Bayraktar, the Environment and Urban Planning Minister, who told private broadcaster NTV via phone that he was quitting both the Cabinet and Parliament.

Last week’s sweeping police action led to the arrests of 24 people, including Suleyman Aslan, the chief executive of state-run Halkbank.

The allegations related to bribery involving public tenders, gold smuggling, and illegal dealings with the Iranian government to circumvent international sanctions.

“The operation, which started on December 17, is a clear setup against our government, our party and our country,” Mr. Caglayan said in a statement carried by Anadolu.

“I resign from my post in order to let the truth be revealed and to undermine attempts to defame my colleagues and my son,” Mr. Guler told Anadolu that while he had offered his resignation to Mr. Erdogan last week, he submitted it in writing on Wednesday.

Mr. Erdogan has been under pressure to investigate the alleged crimes amid calls from the opposition for him to step down.

As he faces the most serious political crisis since the Gezi Park protests earlier this year, the premier has denounced the corruption inquiry as a “dirty operation” against his government.

He has said that local and international forces were conspiring to undermine Turkey’s economic progress.

Mr. Erdogan was accused of authoritarianism after repeated police crackdowns starting in May on protesters opposed to the government’s plans to develop Istanbul’s Gezi Park into a complex with a new mosque and shopping centre.

Thousands of people have once again taken to the streets in protest, charging Erdogan with subverting the secular legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the republic.

President Abdullah Gul, in his first comments since the bribery and corruption scandal broke, said Tuesday that corruption cannot be covered up and emphasized Turkey’s progress in political and judicial reforms.

“I am sure the justice system will reach a final judgement in a way that will not leave any question in the minds of anyone,” he was quoted as saying by local media.

Two days after the raids, Istanbul’s chief of police, Huseyin Capkin, was removed from office.

The newspaper Today’s Zaman reported on Wednesday that 400 Istanbul police officers have been transferred in the midst of the investigation.

The report put the nationwide figure of police officers removed from their posts, in what it described as a “purge,” at 500.

Observers in Turkey and local media have said the corruption inquiry is part of a growing political feud between Mr. Erdogan and his former ally, Fethullah Gulen.

The Islamic scholar who lives in the United States, is believed to have powerful connections within the Turkish police force and judiciary. He once backed Mr. Erdogan’s party, helping it to victory in three successive elections.

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