Banking, Telecoms Executives Fired as Turkish Purge Continues

Government official says firings carried out for 'the benefit of the public' and more could come.

The Turkish government's purge of official bodies has been extended to the banking and telecoms regulators and state TV, with dozens of executives fired in recent days.

The authorities have already sacked thousands of police officers, dozens of prosecutors and some state television officials in response to a corruption investigation, which has become the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's 11-year rule.

Investigators are believed to have been looking into allegations of corruption at a state-run bank and bribery involving big real estate projects, although details of their charges have not been made public.

The combative prime minister says the investigations, which began a month ago with the 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.

Turkish media reported on Saturday that among the dozens of officials dismissed in the latest sackings were the deputy head of the banking watchdog BDDK and two department heads.

In addition, five department chiefs were fired at the Telecommunications Directorate, 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."

Erdogan has suggested the graft inquiry, which has led to the resignation of three cabinet ministers and detention of businessmen close to the government, is an attempt to undermine his rule by Fethullah Gulen, a United States-based cleric with influence among the police and judiciary.

Many of the people who have been fired are believed to be associated with the cleric's Hizmet movement, which claims more than a million followers and runs schools and charities throughout Turkey.