Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has replaced nearly half his cabinet in a reshuffle prompted by a spiraling corruption scandal as thousands protest calling for his resignation. The graft prosecutor has also been removed from him position for his handling of the case.
Erdogan announced on television late Wednesday that he had replaced three resigning ministers and his EU affairs minister, while reshuffling the justice, transport, family, sports and industry portfolios, and one of his four deputy prime ministers' posts.
The scandal involves the three ministers' sons, who were questioned over alleged illicit money transfers to Iran and bribery for construction projects. Two of them were later arrested on bribery charges. Erdogan called the arrests a "dirty operation" aimed at smearing his administration and undermining the country's progress.
Erdogan's reshuffle was decided in a closed-door meeting with President Abdullah Gul, who had said since Tuesday that it was imminent.
Erdogan removed Egemen Bagis, the EU affairs minister, from his post, replacing him with Mevlut Cavusoglu. Bagis was accused of being involved in the corruption scandal but has never been detained or formally charged.
Economy minister Zafer Caglayan, interior minister Muammer Guler and environment minister Erdogan Bayraktar resigned earlier Wednesday over a high-level corruption crackdown after the investigation focused on their sons.
The prosecutor who went public on Thursday with allegations of police obstruction in the high-level corruption case had himself mishandled the proceedings and was therefore removed, his superior said.
Turhan Colakkadi, Istanbul's chief prosecutor, told reporters Muammer Akkas had leaked information to the media and had not given superiors timely updates on the case as required.
There was no indication the characteristically defiant prime minister was himself contemplating stepping down, as demanded by anti-government protesters – and by Erdogan Bayraktar, the environment minister who resigned.
The call came as demonstrators took to the streets of Istanbul to protest against the government over the corruption allegations. Protesters chanted slogans as they called for the government to resign. The rally turned violent when riot police used smoke grenades and water cannon on bottle-hurling demonstrators.
The high-level corruption scandal is rapidly becoming a major challenge to Erdogan's 11-year grip on power in Turkey, a NATO member and significant emerging economy.
The government reshuffled the police force hours after the investigation was revealed, moving dozens of senior police officers, including the Istanbul police chief, to passive positions over Ankara's claims of "abuse of office."
The investigations are widely believed to be linked to the recent tensions between the US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen's movement and Erdogan's AKP party. Gulen was previously a key backer of the AKP, helping it to win three elections in a row since 2002.
The tensions, which have been festering for months, are thought to be linked to government plans to abolish private preparatory schools. Gulen owns a large network of such schools.
Erdogan recently said that those behind the investigations were trying to form a "state within a state," an apparent reference to Gulen's movement, whose followers are influential in Turkey's police and judiciary.
Al Jazeera and wire services