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Turkey: Erdogan sacks statistics chief and replaces justice minister

Annual inflation figures published by Sait Erdal Dincer's agency had angered both the government and opposition
A woman stands outside a bureau de change in Turkey. The country is embroiled in a currency crisis and has been dogged by soaring inflation (Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sacked the head of the country's statistics agency, according to a decree published on Saturday, after annual inflation figures angered both the pro-government and opposition camps.

Sait Erdal Dincer, head of the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK), came under fire after releasing data this month that put the annual inflation rate at a 19-year high of 36.1 percent.

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The opposition said the figure was underreported, claiming that the real cost of living increases was at least twice as high.

But Erdogan reportedly criticised the statistics agency in private for publishing data that he felt overstated the scale of Turkey's economic malaise, AFP reported.

Erdogan did not explain his decision to appoint Erhan Cetinkaya, who had served as vice-chair of Turkey's banking regulator, as the new state statistics chief. 

The TUIK has dismissed allegations of meddling with official data, but researchers have begun alternative inflation calculations.

'May God help us'

Erdogan also appointed a new justice minister, naming former deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdag to replace veteran ruling party member Abdulhamit Gul.

"I have resigned from my duties at the ministry of justice, which I have been serving since 19 July 2017," Gul wrote on Twitter.

"I would like to express my gratitude... for accepting my request," he added without explaining his decision.

Bozdag, 56, had served as justice minister under Erdogan between 2013-2015 and 2015-2017, before being a deputy prime minister until 2018, when the role was abolished as part of constitutional changes that gave Erdogan sweeping executive powers.

"I thank our President Mr Tayyip Erdogan for entrusting the post of Justice Minister to me... May God help us," Bozdag said on Twitter on Saturday.

Embroiled in a currency crisis, Turkey had been dogged by soaring inflation that is expected to hit a near 20-year high of around 47 percent in January, a Reuters poll showed on Friday.

Media warning

Erdogan on Saturday also threatened Turkish media with legal action over content "incompatible with national and moral values," in a move seen by critics as an attempt to stifle dissent.

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The president said in a decree that "it has become requisite to take necessary measures to protect [families, children and the youth] against harmful media content."

He urged authorities to take "legal action" against the "destructive effects" of some media content, without revealing what that would entail. 

Faruk Bildirici, veteran journalist and media ombudsman, on Twitter accused Erdogan of declaring a "state of emergency against the media". 

Rights groups routinely accuse Turkey of undermining media freedom by arresting journalists and shutting down critical media outlets, especially since Erdogan survived a failed coup attempt in July 2016. The government denies the charge.