More arrests as Turkey continues crackdown

Turkey has stepped up its crackdown against suspected members inside the foreign ministry of a network blamed for a failed coup in 2016.

This week, prosecutors launched arrest warrants for 249 ministry personnel, a majority of them have since been detained, local press reported.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that nearly all the detained personnel had already been removed from office, pending inquiries.

“Those are people who have been dismissed from our ministry based on concrete evidence. This judiciary decision shows how we were right to remove them from office,” the minister was quoted as saying by state-run Anadolu Agency.

The suspects are accused of having links of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for a 2016 coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip.

They are particularly being suspected of cheating in the ministry’s past entrance exams between 2010 and 2013.

“We have reduced our ranks but I can say that now we have increased our force,” Cavusoglu said, regarding the high numbers of civil servants removed from his ministry.

Turkish officials have repeatedly said that members of the Gulen Movement have been running “a parallel state” within the civilian and military bureaucracy and pursuing their own agenda, including the foreign ministry.

“We were surprised some years ago when we saw that people without reference and proper background checks had passed the difficult entrance exam,” a source close to the matter told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

“These people had a certain agenda that they keep secret from the rest of the personnel,” the source said, adding that some of the newcomers had insufficient knowledge in required matters and foreign language.

“To pass certain exams … some of the candidates have been seeking apparently the help of private tutors to master English, which is a must for the diplomatic elite,” this source said.

More than 350 diplomats and bureaucratic personnel have already been removed from the foreign ministry since the 2016 failed coup, authorities said.

Personnel dismissed from their positions also included ambassadors and other senior officials such as Gurcan Balik, who once served as chief foreign policy adviser to former President Abdullah Gul.

Meanwhile, after the coup attempt, 32 diplomats failed to answer the recall of Turkey, some asking asylum in countries which they serve the post, Cavusoglu said earlier.

Authorities have carried out regular operations against the alleged followers of Gulen.

More than 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial, while some 150,000 civil servants, military personnel and others have been sacked or suspended from their jobs as part of the post-coup purges.