Turkey replaces elected Kurdish officials with appointees, sparking protests

The move comes in the wake of July's coup attempt; Turkey has been under a state of emergency since.

Sertac Kayar/Reuters
Barriers around a government building in Sur, Turkey, after the elected mayor was replaced by the central government.

Turkish police used water cannons and teargas to disperse protesters Sunday after Ankara announced it had replaced 28 elected municipal and district mayors in several predominantly Kurdish towns in Turkey's east and southeast.

The removed officials are suspected of colluding with groups the government considers terrorist organizations, the Interior Ministry announced Sunday, adding that the decision was in line with a governmental decree enacted in the wake of a failed military coup.

Turkey declared a state of emergency following the July 15 coup attempt that allows the government to rule by decree. It has since suspended tens of thousands of people from government jobs over suspected links to terrorist organizations.

Of the officials replaced with by Ankara-appointed deputy and district governors Sunday, 24 are suspected of ties with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK, and four are thought to be linked to the Gulen movement the governments alleges is responsible for the abortive coup that left over 270 people dead.

The ministry said in its statement that when local governments "come under the influence of terrorist organizations, it is the state's primary duty to take precautions against those who have usurped the people's will."

"Being an elected official isn't a license to commit crimes," Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag wrote on Twitter. "If mayors and town councilors finance terrorism by transferring public funds allocated to them to serve the people...., they lose their democratic legitimacy."

The United States embassy in Ankara expressed concern over the government's actions, saying in a statement that it hoped the substitute office-holders who took up their new posts Sunday would be temporary and that "local citizens will soon be permitted to choose new local officials in accordance with Turkish law."

Three of the 28 officials are members of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party; one belongs to the Nationalist Movement Party and the rest to pro-Kurdish parties.

The pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party, or HDP, condemned the appointments as a "coup by trustees" that violates the Turkish constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights.

"This unlawful and arbitrary action will only deepen existing problems in Kurdish towns and cause the Kurdish issue to be even more unsolvable," the party said in a statement.

The main opposition Republican People's Party also condemned the move. A delegation of senior party members spoke to reporters in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, where they called the appointments unlawful and said they would be taking the decision to Turkey's constitutional court.

Addressing the nation on Sunday for the Muslim holiday Eid, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was determined to "save Turkey from the PKK scourge."

"Like the Gulen movement, the PKK cannot possibly withstand the power of the people and the strength of the state," Erdogan said in a video statement.

The private Dogan news agency reported that a group of about 200 people gathered in front of city hall in the southeastern town of Suruc to protest the government-installed officials and were dispersed with tear gas and water cannons. A protest in front of Batman city hall was broken up in the same way.

Four people, including a deputy mayor, were briefly detained in a minor skirmish outside city hall in the southeastern province of Hakkari. Co-mayor Fatma Yildiz, who was replaced Sunday morning, said the decision was "a blow against the will of the people," Dogan reported.

Turkish media reported Internet and electricity were out in the affected cities in the morning, but no official reason was given for the outage.

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