Turkish police officers push journalist away from the Metropolitan Municipality headquarters entrance in Diyarbakir on Monday. AFP
The Turkish government removed three mayors from office on Monday over alleged links to Kurdish militants as Ankara deepened its crackdown on the opposition.
The mayors of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van provinces in eastern Turkey — all members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) elected in March — were suspended over alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
A simultaneous crackdown across 29 provinces also saw hundreds arrested, in a sign that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has no desire to ease off its confrontational policies despite recent electoral setbacks.
The ministry said the suspended mayors had active cases against them for “spreading propaganda” or being a member of a terrorist organisation.
The charges included attending funerals and visiting graves of “terrorists,” renaming streets and parks after imprisoned PKK members, and offering jobs to militants’ relatives.
Erdogan has repeatedly claimed the HDP has ties to the PKK, which has fought a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state for much of the past 35 years.
The interior ministry said the mayors’ roles would be taken over by their provincial governors, who are appointed by the central government.
Diyarbakir mayor Selcuk Mizrakli told reporters outside the municipality building that the move “disregards the will of the people.”
The cases against Mizrakli and Van mayor Bedia Ozgokce Ertan date back to their time as members of parliament.
The HDP denies any links to the PKK but has tried to broker peace talks between the insurgents and the government.
Hundreds of its members and around 40 of its mayors are currently in detention.
The former head of the party, Selahattin Demirtas, has been in prison since November 2016 —a case that has been criticised by the European Court of Human Rights.
The government launched a crackdown on opposition politicians as well as the public sector, media and civil society following the July 2016 failed coup.
Although the coup was not directly linked to the Kurdish issue, the crackdown saw 95 of 102 pro-Kurdish mayors removed from their posts and replaced with central government appointees.
HDP lawmaker Garo Paylan said Monday that all parties and the public must oppose this “vile coup.”
“Remaining silent will mean Ankara, Istanbul next,” he tweeted, referring to the fact that the ruling party lost control of Turkey’s two biggest cities this year.
In April, Turkish electoral authorities annulled elections in five districts and towns after ruling that individuals sacked by decree during the two-year state of emergency could not take up their posts.
Turkish police also carried out raids across 29 provinces on Monday, including Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van, detaining 418 suspects over alleged PKK ties, the interior ministry said.
In Diyarbakir, the municipality building was cordoned off by police, an AFP correspondent said, with employees being searched by officers as they entered.
The sacked mayors all won with large majorities in the March elections.
Mizrakli won in Diyarbakir with 63 per cent of the vote, Turk won Mardin with 56 per cent, and Ertan took Van with 54 per cent.
The HDP said in a statement that the decision was a “clearly hostile move” against the Kurds and called for solidarity between all “democratic forces.”
There was also criticism from the new Istanbul mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who was forced to re-run his own campaign this year after being controversially stripped of his initial victory.
“Ignoring the will of the people is unacceptable,” Imamoglu wrote on Twitter.
Turkey pressed its deadly offensive against Kurdish targets in Syria on Friday as it battled to seize key border towns on the third day of an operation that has forced 100,000 civilians to flee.
Ankara and Washington agreed on Thursday to a five-day truce in northeastern Syria to allow the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia to withdraw from a "safe zone" that Turkey aims to establish. Erdogan has said the offensive will resume if the withdrawal is not complete within the five days.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday warned that Ankara would restart its operation against Kurdish forces in Syria on Tuesday evening if they did not withdraw from a “safe zone.”
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The police have urged residents to remain cautious and avoid visiting mountainous areas and valley
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