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More than 1,000 detained in relation to dismissal of pro-Kurdish mayors

Protesters have clashed with the government over the ruling [AFP]

Date of publication: 27 August, 2019

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More than 1,000 arrests have followed the dismissal of three pro-Kurdish opposition mayors last week, a Turkish rights organisation has said.
More than a thousand people have been detained in Turkey as the Ankara government-ordered the dismissal of pro-Kurdish mayors last week.

The elected mayors for the Kurdish-majority cities of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van were dismissed from their posts in a move widely criticised by rights organisations.

The former mayors are all members of the People's Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish leftist party that holds a majority of seats in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast.

They stand accused, alongside the already jailed former leaders of the party, of membership of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Kurdish militia classified as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, NATO, EU, US and Canada, among other states.

Supporters insist there is no link between the PKK and the HDP, which labelled the latest clampdown as a "political coup".

The Diyarbakir branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD) said that more than 1,000 people had been arrested in relation to the decision since last week.

Around 420 of those were arrested on 19 August, when the mayors were replaced by government-appointed "trustees" who are expected to hold the roles until the next local elections in 2023.

Most or all of those were detained as part of the probe launched by the interior ministry in relation to the mayor dismissals.

The government detained more than 400 people for alleged links to Kurdish militants last week. Among those detained were several pro-Kurdish journalists.

The IHD did not specify how many people in total were arrested in home raids related to the criminal probe and how many were detained for protesting against the decision.

Most of the arrests occurred in Diyarbakir, Van and Mardin, where protests against the ruling are ongoing. The demonstrations have largely been prohibited by the local governors, who are appointed by the central government.

Demonstrations against the dismissals also took place in Istanbul and the capital Ankara.

The pro-Kurdish organisation was however able to confirm that 138 people were detained in home raids and 32 people were detained in protests in the city of Diyarbakir.

Accusations of corruption

Meanwhile, Turkey's interior ministry has denied reports that the Mardin "trustee", who replaced veteran Kurdish politician Ahmet Turk as mayor, has been accused of giving financial gifts to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the interior minister using the Mardin municipality budget.

The "gifts" are said to total 600,000 Turkish liras ($103,770) to the president and other figures from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), according to local media.

Erdogan allegedly received 136,946 liras ($23,527) from Governor and Mayor Mustafa Yaman, while Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu is said to have received 39,883 liras ($6,854).

Former Minister of Defence and Minister of Education Ismet Yilmaz, Deputy Prime Minister Fikri Isik, Minister of Environment and Urban Planning Mehmet Ozhaseki, and AKP London chief Abdurrahim Boynukalin were also gifted thousands of liras, according to the accusations.

The majority of the gifts are alleged to have come in the form of silver purchased in Mardin, while some of the funds were also given in cash.

AKP dignataries visiting Mardin have also reportedly been gifted lavish "banquets" and had luxury vehicles rented on their behalf, according to local media.

Speaking to Hurriyet, Interior Minister Soylu denied receiving any gifts from Yaman, saying "We are modest people".

It is not the first time Turkey has removed elected HDP mayors.

Dozens of mayors from the party were dismissed and replaced with government-appointed "trustees", accused of membership in or links to the PKK, in late 2016. 

Those "trustees" have also been accused of corruption by members of the HDP and Turkey's largest opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP).

The party's former co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, in addition to other lawmakers, were also taken into custody that year.

Nearly a hundred mayors and thousands of party members were detained in the crackdown.

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