Turkey’s PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denounced a corruption inquiry as a “dirty operation” against his government.
Some 52 people – including three sons of cabinet ministers – were arrested in dawn raids on Tuesday in connection with a high-profile bribery inquiry.
Five police chiefs who oversaw raids in Istanbul and Ankara were sacked for “abuse of office”, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
“We will not allow political plotting,” he said.
However, the deputy prime minister promised not to stand in the way of the judicial process.
“We will always respect any decision made by the judiciary and will not engage in any effort to block this process,” Bulent Arinc said.
Commentators in Turkey believe the arrests – and subsequent firings – are evidence of a new dramatic fault-line in Turkish politics, one within the AK Party itself.
The feud is believed to involve supporters of Fethullah Gulen, an influential Islamic scholar living in exile in the US who once backed the ruling AK Party, helping it to victory in three elections since 2002.
Members of Fethullah Gulen’s Hizmet movement are said to hold influential positions in institutions from the police and secret services to the judiciary and the AK Party itself.
In recent months, the alliance began to come apart and in November the government discussed closing down private schools, including those run by Hizmet.
Fethullah Gulen has been living in the US since 1999, when he was accused in Turkey of plotting against the secular state.
The five police commissioners sacked include the heads of the financial crime and organized crime units, who were both involved in the earlier arrests, the Turkish daily Hurriyet reports.
Also dismissed were the heads of the smuggling unit, the anti-terrorism branch and the public security branch, the paper says.
In a brief statement, the police said they had reassigned some staff, in some cases due to alleged misconduct and others “out of administrative necessity”.
The mass arrests were carried out as part of an inquiry into alleged bribery involving public tenders.
The sons of Interior Minister Muammer Guler, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar were among those detained.