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Main opposition party refers Bolu mayor for expulsion over sexist remarks

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The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has referred Bolu Mayor Tanju Özcan, who is notorious for his anti-refugee policies, to the disciplinary committee over sexist remarks, local media reported on Tuesday, citing the party’s deputy chair responsible for local administrations.

Seyit Torun on Tuesday said in a written statement that Özcan’s stance and actions have been “sensitively” followed by the CHP and that he has received several verbal warnings.

He added that the party had evaluated the mayor’s sexist dialogue with a woman that took place on May 16 in its latest meeting on Monday and has decided to refer him to the disciplinary committee for expulsion from the party.

The CHP’s High Disciplinary Committee is expected to convene to discuss Özcan’s case and will give him a chance to defend himself, according to Turkish media reports, which also said the mayor currently cannot carry out work on behalf of the party due to the ongoing case.

Meanwhile, Bilecik Mayor Semih Şahin, who was suspended by the Interior Ministry over allegations of bribery, was expelled from the CHP on Tuesday.

Bolu Mayor Özcan frequently sparks criticism from human rights groups due to his remarks and measures targeting the refugees living in the city such as imposing exorbitant fees for municipal services on them.

The Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey (TİHEK), a governmental organization responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights, previously imposed a TL 40,000 ($2,505) administrative fine on the Bolu Municipality for “violation of the prohibition of discrimination.”

The decision was made after the institution launched an investigation into the municipality regarding measures such as imposing exorbitant fees on foreigners for using water and applying for a marriage license.

The Bolu Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office also launched an investigation into Özcan for “misconduct” and “hatred and discrimination” after he said in July 2021 that additional water and solid waste tax 10 times the normal tax would be imposed on migrants in Bolu.

When he was first elected mayor of Bolu in 2019, Özcan’s first act was to cut municipal aid to Syrian refugees in the city as he had promised during his election campaign.

Anti-immigrant sentiment has reached a boiling point in Turkey, fueled by the country’s economic woes. With unemployment high and the price of food and housing skyrocketing, many Turks have turned their frustration toward refugees, particularly the nearly 4 million Syrians who fled the civil war that broke out in 2011.

Attitudes about refugees fleeing the long conflict in Syria have gradually hardened in Turkey, where they used to be welcomed with open arms, sympathy and compassion, as the number of newcomers has swelled over the past decade.

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