ISTANBUL – Turkey’s interior ministry said 1,000 police officers have been removed in the wake of a major corruption probe against key government allies but said these were only “routine” re-assignments.

The government has embarked on a mass purge of police and prosecutors in the wake of the probe launched on December 17 targeting several members of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s inner circle.

“While 15,000 police were subjected to such a shakeup last year, this number has only reached 5,000 this year. Only 1,000 of them are related to December 17,” Efkan Ala said in an interview with Kanal 7 television.

Ala added that the police officers affected by the shakeups were not “sacked”, but “re-assigned” as part of a “routine procedure”.

The corruption scandal poses one of the most serious challenges to Erdogan in his 11 years in power, ahead of key local polls in March.

Erdogan accuses supporters of exiled Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen in the police and judiciary of acting as a “state within a state” and instigating the graft probe to try to topple the government.

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