Turkey Ousts Three Kurdish-aligned Mayors, Citing Links to Outlawed Militant Group

Police detain 418 people in 29 provinces in an investigation targeting suspected supporters of PKK, considered a terror organization by Ankara

Turkish police walk in front of the Metropolitan Municipality headquarters in Diyarbakir, Turkey, August 19, 2019.
Murad Sezer / Reuters

Turkey's government said it has removed from office the elected mayors of three provinces in Turkey's mostly Kurdish-populated southeast region, replacing them with government appointees.

The three mayors were elected to office in the cities of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van in local elections in March.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

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An Interior Ministry statement on Monday accused the mayors of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party of aiding the outlawed Kurdish rebel group the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

Also on Monday, the ministry said Turkish police have detained 418 people in 29 provinces in an investigation targeting suspects with links to the PKK.

In June, Turkey's Defense Ministry said a total of 43 PKK members had been "neutralized" as part of an operation Ankara launched in northern Iraq. 

"43 PKK terrorists have been neutralizedas part of Operation Claw, which has continued successfully for 13 days in the Hakurk region of northern Iraq," the ministry said in a statement. 

It said 53 mines and improvised explosive devices had been destroyed and 74 caves and shelters used by the PKK made unusable, adding that it had also seized weapons and ammunition belonging to the militants.

Main opposition slams dismissals 

Veli Agbaba, deputy leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), wrote on Twitter that the dismissals were tantamount to fascism and a blow against democracy, while Istanbul's CHP mayor Ekrem Imamoglu also slammed the move.

"Negating the will of the people is unacceptable," he wrote on Twitter. Imamoglu himself was removed from office over irregularities shortly after coming to power in the March election, but won a re-run election in June.

The removal of the mayors echoed the dismissal of dozens of mayors in 2016 over similar accusations, part of a purge that began after a failed coup. Nearly 100 mayors and thousands of party members were jailed in a crackdown that drew expressions of concern from the United States and European Union.

Ahead of the March election Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu had said 178 candidates were being investigated over alleged PKK links. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the time warned that HDP mayors could again be dismissed if they, like their predecessors, were deemed to have ties to militants. 

Erdogan frequently accuses the HDP of links to the PKK. The HDP denies such links. 

The PKK launched an insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict. 

The Interior Ministry said recent operations had led to PKK militant numbers falling to their lowest level in 30 years, with the number of fighters in Turkey falling to some 600 from around 1,800-2,000 in the past.