NEW: "This is a political coup and ethnic cleansing," Kurdish lawmaker says
The 28 mayors are alleged to have ties to one of two groups Turkey deems terrorist
Turkey’s government replaced 28 mayors, whom the Interior Ministry accuses of terrorist ties, with trustees, sparking demonstrations and international concern.
The mayors are the latest to find themselves targeted in President Recep Erdogan’s post-coup state of emergency, enacted in July.
According to the 10-day-old Decree Law No. 674, the government is allowed to replace mayors and city council members who “have been actively engaged in acts of terrorism and openly providing support to terrorism,” an Interior Ministry statement said.
Four of the mayors are accused of having ties to the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization, which Erdogan has claimed was behind the failed coup attempt, and 24 were allegedly linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.
The mayors, who include 24 district mayors, two provincial mayors and two county mayors, most of them from the eastern portion of the country, are being prosecuted on charges of assisting the two groups, the Interior Ministry said. Twelve of the mayors have been arrested, its statement said.
“It doesn’t undoubtedly comply with the law for those elected by the public vote to abuse the will of nation to commit crimes against the public,” the statement said. “The resources created by the taxes honored by our citizens and the political will aroused by their votes cannot be utilized for the benefit of terrorist organizations.”
The move sparked demonstrations in Hakkari Province, where security forces forbade the city’s co-mayors from entering the municipal building, drawing several protesters to the building, according to Hurriyet, a daily newspaper.
Protests also erupted at four municipalities in Batman Province, where police deployed tear gas and water cannons, and in the Suruc district of Sanliurfa Province, the paper reported. All three provinces are in Turkey’s southeast, along its border with Syria and Iraq.
The People’s Democratic Party called the mayoral substitutions a disregard of voters’ will and said they represented a violation of international law, Hurriyet reported. The secular main opposition Republican People’s Party, which supported Erdogan in the coup attempt but not his subsequent emergency declaration, also registered its displeasure, calling it a “coup” against the Grand National Assembly, the newspaper said.
The U.S. Embassy, too, issued a “statement of concern.” While Turkish authorities conduct their investigations, the statement said, “we note the importance of respect for judicial due process and individual rights, including the right of peaceful political expression.”
The embassy also expressed hope that the trustees would serve only temporarily and that citizens would soon be able to elect new officials.
The mayors represent a small fraction of people fired or arrested since the July 15 coup attempt that killed at least 240 people and 40 coup plotters.
A three-month state of emergency granted Erdogan sweeping powers, and a presidential decree stated suspects can be detained for as long as 30 days without charge, and the government can listen in on all conversations they have with their attorneys. Previously, suspects could be held only 24 hours, or four days in special circumstances.
More than 81,000 people working for Turkey’s institutions and security forces, including judges, teachers, police and journalists, were fired just after the failed coup. More than 9,000 soldiers were arrested in the week following the botched takeover.
The government also shut down more than 2,000 institutions linked to the cleric Fethullah Gulen, Edogan’s longtime rival who has been in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999.
Warrants were issued for dozens of journalists, and Amnesty International reported that, in official and unofficial holding centers in Istanbul and Ankara, there were reports of police officers raping military officers, beating soldiers and denying detainees food, water and lawyers.
Last week, Turkey suspended more than 11,000 teachers over alleged links to the PKK, which Turkey, the United States and European Union consider a terrorist group, according to Anadolu, which also reported the final tally of teacher suspensions could reach 14,000.
Parliament member Sebahat Tuncel, a Kurd, said Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party had started “a war against Kurds,” and said the government has no evidence the mayors, some of whom were elected by overwhelming majorities, had any ties to terrorism. She expressed fear that more Kurds would lose their jobs amid Erdogan’s crackdown.
“This is a political coup and ethnic cleansing,” she said. “(More than 11,000) Kurdish educators lost their jobs recently. We are hearing that the same thing will happen to our people who are working at the health care industry.”
CNN’s Hande Atay Alam contributed to this report.