Istanbul - Turkey's government on Tuesday removed 166 prosecutors and judges as it stepped up a purge of the judiciary in response to a high-level graft probe, local media reported.

Those sacked included senior prosecutors in the capital Ankara, Istanbul and the western city of Izmir, the Hurriyet daily said on its website.

Since the scandal broke in mid-December, the government has sacked thousands of police Ä some 6,000 nationwide according to media estimates Ä prosecutors, judges and senior lawyers involved in the investigations into alleged money laundering, gold smuggling and bribery.

A further 85 senior police officers were sacked in Istanbul this week alone.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused supporters of exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, who wields influence in the judiciary and police, of launching the probe as part of a “coup plot” against his government in a crucial election year.

But the purges, coupled with legislation aimed at increasing government control on the judiciary and the Internet, have raised deep concern at home and abroad about the state of democracy in the country.

Sapa-AFP