Turkish authorities have removed mayors of two provinces and 26 districts in southeastern Turkey, extending post-coup crackdown to Kurds and politicians sympathetic to a Kurdish rebel group.
The mayors who were elected two years ago are already being replaced by trustees appointed by the government, setting off clashes between protesters and security services. In several districts in the southeastern Turkey, including in Sirnak and Hakkari, police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse people protesting the trustees.
Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu said dismissed mayors allegedly have ties to either the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETO).
At least 40,000 have died since late 1980s in clashes between Turkish forces and the PKK. The militants demand Kurdish autonomy in Turkey’s southeast.
The PKK is designated as a terrorist group by Ankara, Washington and Brussels.
The U.S. Embassy in Ankara said on Sunday that Washington is concerned by reports of clashes in Turkey’s southeast following the government’s decision “to remove some elected local officials from office on charges of supporting terrorism, and appoint local trustees in their place.”
The embassy said it supported Turkey’s right to defend itself, but highlighted the importance of respect for due process and the right to a peaceful protest.
Most of the trustees appointed as mayors are from Kurdish parties, except four.
The appointment of the trustees came amid heightened tensions in the region as the PKK escalated its attacks on Turkish security forces. Dozens of Turkish troops were killed in fierce armed skirmishes in the past week.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmakers protested the decision, claiming that the move is a blunt disregard for people’s will.
Bekir Bozdag, Turkey’s justice minister, downplayed claims that the mayors were elected. “Being elected does not give license to commit crimes,” the minister said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to eradicate the PKK, and claimed that the recent military operations inflicted heavy losses on the rebel group. He said the PKK escalated the conflict to derail Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria and said the “terrorist group stands no chance to resist against our people.”
A law that allows appointment of administrators to replace elected officials is a product of the state of emergency rule, to be expired on October 20, and raised concerns about the safety of new mayors. Several months ago, leader of PKK’s military wing Cemil Bayik threatened to eliminate trustees appointed to replace the elected Kurdish mayors. The new mayors started their work under heavy security presence, with security services armed with automatic rifles encircling the trustees.
Tens of thousands of public employees were either suspended, sacked or detained as part of the massive crackdown following the failed coup attempt on July 15.
Last week, Turkish authorities suspended at least 11,500 teachers, over “support of the separatist terrorist organization and its affiliates.” Turkish pro-government media reported that the number will reach to 14,000 as the authorities continue investigation. Most of these teachers were placed on leave because either they attended a Kurdish protest, or posted messages sympathetic to the Kurdish cause.