Turkey removes 28 mayors on terrorism charges

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With authority vested by the state of emergency rule, the Turkish government removed 28 mayors on Sunday in the predominantly in Kurdish regions of the country, replacing them with trustees.

According to a statement released by the Ministry of Interior Affairs, 28 mayors are accused of links with terrorist organizations. Twenty-four mayors allegedly support the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK). Four are claimed to have connections to the alleged “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (FETÖ), an acronym the government has been using to refer to the Hizmet movement, despite the lack of a court ruling that proves any terrorist activity on the part of the movement.

The government’s decision to replace elected mayors with appointees was made possible by Decree No. 647 issued after a foiled coup on July 15.

There are two provinces, Hakkari and Batman, among the 28 local administrations whose mayors were removed. Almost all the mayors replaced were elected from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Following the decision, seen by many as an intervention into the will of the predominantly Kurdish populace, a protest took place in Hakkari and police detained some of the protesters.

The HDP reacted adversely to government’s new measures concerning the municipalities.

“The appointment of trustees is laying the groundwork for an internal war. This is a provocation. There is nothing left to talk about on this issue in terms of democracy and the law,” said HDP co-spokesman Ayhan Bilgen during a press conference on Sunday.

“Appointing trustees to an AKP municipality from municipal council but appointing trustees to HDP municipalities from the district governors. How can it not be called discrimination and separatism?” Bilgen said in a Twitter message as well.

“The regulation is against many articles of the Constitution and also against democratic international agreements, universal law and basic human rights, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Charter of Local Self-Government and Municipalities, of which Turkey is a signatory,” a written statement from the HDP said on Sunday.

The government defended the steps taken in the 28 municipalities.

“The new appointments to the municipalities means protecting the democratic constitutional state. Being elected does not give the person elected the right and authority to commit illegal acts,” said Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ in a tweet on Sunday.

“Despite the fact that they are not trained to run a municipality, our friends [district governors who were appointed as trustees to HDP municipalities] will demonstrate how municipalities should be run,” said Mehmet Özhaseki, minister of environment and urbanization, in remarks on the new regulation on Sunday.

Murat Karayılan, leader of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) – an umbrella organization that includes the terrorist PKK — said in a statement in June that they will directly attack the trustees that the government is planning to appoint to pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) mayors’ offices.

“If they [the government] take over [HDP mayors’ offices], we will target whoever is appointed to replace the mayor. I am saying this openly. They want to expand the war, and they are imposing this on us. Of course, we will respond accordingly,” Karayılan said.

Although the mayors are predominantly from the Kurdish-populated regions, the Çamoluk district of Giresun province in the northern Black Sea area will also be run by a government-appointed trustee since its mayor, Savaş Akarçeşme, elected from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was arrested over to alleged links to the Hizmet movement in the wake of the failed coup.

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