FILE - Germany's Chief Federal Prosecutor Harald Range.
FILE - Germany's Chief Federal Prosecutor Harald Range.

Germany's justice minister has fired the country's top public prosecutor, after he accused the ministry of interfering in the widely criticized treason probe of a news website.

The dismissal of Federal Prosecutor Harald Range was announced Tuesday in Berlin at a hastily called news conference at which Justice Minister Heiko Maas said he no longer trusts Range.  Opposition parties and some members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition also had called for Range to step down.

Range launched the probe earlier this year, after two bloggers at published documents with details of government plans to expand domestic spying.  The plans also called for a special government spy unit to monitor social media for evidence of terrorist links.

The blogger investigation, described in German media as the first such probe in more than 50 years, was built on suspicion the reporters had revealed state secrets.  It drew harsh official criticism as recently as Friday, when the justice minister voiced doubts that the bloggers intended to harm Germany with their reports.

A spokeswoman for German Chancellor Merkel, speaking Monday, said Justice Minister Maas retains the full support of the German leader.

Range temporarily suspended the probe late last week while he awaited an independent expert opinion on whether the published documents contained state secrets.  

But hundreds of probe critics nonetheless launched weekend street protests in Berlin, while newspaper headlines referred to the probe as an "Attack of Freedom" and "....An Intimidation Campaign."

Range said he opened the probe after criminal complaints were filed by the German domestic intelligence service, known as the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. He said a subsequent review of the complaints showed evidence of possible criminal conduct by the bloggers.