The Turkish government on Monday sacked three mayors from their posts on charges of being linked to Kurds at a time when the government is stepping up its crackdown on dissent.
The mayors of the southeastern cities of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van, all members of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (PDP) elected in March, were sacked for alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the three have the right to open cases of “spreading terrorist propaganda” or belonging to a terrorist organization.
Charges include participating in the funeral of “terrorists” and visiting their graves, renaming streets and gardens with imprisoned Labor members and employing relatives of Kurds.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly accused the People’s Democratic Party of being linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been waging a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state for 35 years.
The Turkish Interior confirmed the replacement of the three mayors to date governors appointed by the government.
Diyarbakir mayor Selcuk Mizrakli told reporters outside the town hall that the move was “ignoring the will of the people”.
The open-ended cases against Mizrakli and the mayor of Van Badeh Ozukce Ertan date from the time they were MPs.
The People’s Democratic Party denies any links to the PKK, but has sought to mediate peace talks between the Kurds and the government.
Hundreds of its members, as well as some 40 mayors, are currently in detention.
His former president, Salahuddin Demirtas, has also been detained since November 2016, in a case condemned by the European Court of Human Rights.
The government launched a crackdown on opposition politicians, public sector workers, the media and civil society after the failed coup attempt in July 2016.
Although the coup has no direct relation to the Kurdish question, the government replaced the heads of 95 of the 100 municipalities and two municipalities that were headed by pro-Kurds during the 2014 elections, and appointed instead loyal figures.
All the parties, as well as public opinion, must reject this “despicable coup”, said Garo Bailan, a member of the Democratic People’s Party.
“To remain silent means that the role of Ankara and Istanbul will be next”, he said, referring to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) losing control of the country’s two largest cities during the March elections.
In April, the Turkish Electoral College canceled the results of the elections of five provinces and cities after ruling that those who had been dismissed by decree during a two-year emergency could not hold office.
Turkish police carried out raids in 29 provinces on Monday, including Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van, and arrested 418 people suspected of being linked to the PKK, according to the Turkish Interior Ministry.
In Diyarbakir, police cordoned off the municipality building, an AFP journalist confirmed, and police officers searched the municipality’s employees as they entered the building.
The three sacked mayors won an overwhelming majority in the March elections.
Mizirakli in Diyarbakir won 63% of the vote, while Mardin Mayor Ahmed Turk won 56% and Ertan 54% in Van.
In a statement, the People’s Democratic Party said the government’s decision was “clearly a hostile step” against the Kurds and called on all “democratic forces” to show solidarity with them.
Hundreds of people gathered in front of Diyarbakir municipality but were dispersed with water cannons.
An AFP correspondent on the ground said two people were slightly injured.
The Turkish government’s move was also criticized by Istanbul’s mayor Akram Emamoglu of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who ran again this year after his election victory was canceled for the first time in a controversial move.
“Ignoring the will of the people is unacceptable”, Imamoglu tweeted.
The Interior Ministry announced on Twitter that 418 people were arrested on Monday in a major operation against the PKK on Turkish soil.
“None of the detainees has committed a crime”, said Cezai Temeli, co-chairman of the Democratic People’s Party (PDP), at a news conference in Ankara.