A defiant İstanbul mayor on Monday called on the country’s interior minister to resign in the wake of an investigation launched by the ministry into municipal employees over alleged terrorism links, Turkish media outlets reported.
The Turkish Interior Ministry on Sunday claimed that 557 municipal personnel hired by İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu had links to “terrorist groups,” including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, (PKK) the Marxist–Leninist Communist Party, (MLKP) and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C).
“A special investigation has been launched by our ministry so that all aspects of the issue can be looked into,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, who spoke at a news conference at his Republican People’s Party (CHP) headquarters in Ankara along with 11 other CHP mayors, said one should be careful when speaking about an institution that has more than 86,000 employees, adding that if terrorists can walk free and find jobs in public institutions, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu should resign due to his failure to take action.
“If you detect anyone [who is a terrorist], inform us, and we can do what needs to be done,” İmamoğlu said.
On Sunday the İstanbul mayor said those attacking his municipality would see only greater unity in İstanbul, adding that the municipality and its workers will claim their rights in court.
Minister Soylu, however, insisted that the investigation was not political.
“We have no business with anyone’s municipality, but we do have business with the fight against terrorism, and for this we have to keep Turkey on the alert,” Soylu said on Monday.
The ministry also claimed that some people reportedly had links to US-based preacher Fethullah Gülen and the movement inspired by him. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been accusing the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup attempt in 2016 and terrorism. The movement denies any involvement in the coup bid or any terrorist activity.
The investigation came after Erdoğan also accused the Istanbul mayor of hiring people with terrorist links. “They recruited 45,000 people, among whom are some affiliated with terrorist organizations,” Erdoğan said on Sunday at a party meeting.
Mayor İmamoğlu has been one of the most frequently targeted figures by Erdoğan and his government since the 2019 local elections saw the ruling party defeated in several big cities.
İmamoğlu, the CHP candidate in the elections who initially won in local polls on March 31 by a narrow margin against ruling party candidate Binali Yıldırım, scored a much larger victory during a re-run on June 23.
İmamoglu has since become one of the most popular opposition politicians in the country. Many see him as the opposition’s likely candidate for the presidency against Erdoğan in the next elections.
According to a Metropoll survey conducted in December, Erdoğan and İmamoğlu would receive 36.6 percent and 48.7 percent of the vote, respectively, if a presidential election were to be held today.