Ankara, September 12, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency
Turkey’s Interior Ministry appointed trustees to 28 local municipalities across the country on Sept. 11 on the grounds that they allegedly provided support to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), which was accused of staging the failed coup attempt of July 15, sparking angry reaction from the opposition.
A total of 28 mayors, 24 of whom were allegedly linked to the PKK while the other four were allegedly linked to FETÖ, were suspended from their duties as part of a recent decree law under the state of emergency, the ministry said in a statement issued on its website.
The new mayors began their duties as of 9 a.m., it said.
Among the suspended were 24 district mayors, the mayors of the eastern province of Hakkari, the southeastern province of Batman and two town mayors. Twelve were already under arrest, according to the ministry.
The recent appointments were predominantly in eastern and southeastern provinces from municipalities run by the Democratic Unity Party (DBP), the sister party of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), including the Silvan and Sur municipalities of Diyarbakır, four municipalities in Mardin, Van and Batman, and two municipalities in Şırnak. The mayors were either replaced by deputy governors or district governors.
The other four mayors, three from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and one from the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), were suspended over their alleged links to FETÖ in the districts of Adana, Erzurum, Giresun and Konya to be replaced by municipal councils in the districts.
Commenting on the assignments, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said the move was “to protect the democratic constitutional state,” accusing the municipalities in question of financing terror.
“If mayors and council members finance terror by transferring money, which is sent for serving the public, to terror organizations and allow the usage of municipal vehicles, equipment and facilities for the terror organization’s attacks, they lose their democratic legitimacy,” Bozdağ tweeted, vowing to continue the government’s fight against terror within the law.
He also noted that being elected did not give anyone the right or authority to commit a crime.
Environment and Urbanization Minister Mehmet Özhaseki also said the appointed trustees would show “what municipal work is” with infrastructure, water, green space and transportation even though it is not their actual profession.
Meanwhile, the HDP issued a statement following the decision, describing it as unacceptable.
“Such an unlawful regulation which disregarded the voters’ will and deactivated elected local administrators and councils is null and void for us,” the party said, adding that the assignments violated international conventions and laws.
It also stressed that there was no difference between the mentality of the July 15 coup attempt and the recent assignments.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul deputy Gürsel Tekin also described the assignments as a coup.
“Such an implementation is first and foremost a coup against the TBMM [the Grand National Assembly]. The regulation, which had been withdrawn by negotiations after reaching a consensus there, came onto the agenda with a KHK [decree law]. The Interior Ministry already had the authority to discharge a mayor linked to terror. While there can be a new mayor election within the municipal council, taking such steps by disregarding all rules with a totalitarian view is unacceptable,” Tekin said.
In addition, the assignments also sparked protests in various districts and provinces of the eastern and southeastern regions with police dispersing crowds which had gathered to protest the seizure of power.
Security forces in Hakkari did not allow HDP co-mayors Fatma Yıldız and Şaban Alkan to enter the municipality building following the imposition. A group of protesters later began to gather around the municipality building.
However, police dispersed the crowd after they refused to leave the scene. Four people, including Deputy Mayor Mikayil Erdal and HDP district organization head Asım Özcan, were detained but released shortly after.
In Batman, another group from the HDP, including deputies Saadet Becerikli and Ayşe Acer Başaran, gathered to protest the seizures of power at four municipalities in the province. Police fired tear gas and used water cannon to disperse the crowd.
In addition, around 200 people also protested the moves in the Suruç district of the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa. Police dispersed the crowd gathered outside the DBP municipality building.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara also issued a statement over clashes in the southeast after the assignments, expressing its concerns.
“We are 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.
“The United States condemns terrorism and supports Turkey’s right to defend itself. As Turkish authorities investigate allegations that some local officials have participated in or provided material support to terrorist groups, we note the importance of respect for judicial due process and individual rights, including the right of peaceful political expression, as enshrined in the Turkish constitution. We hope that any appointment of trustees will be temporary and that local citizens will soon be permitted to choose new local officials in accordance with Turkish law,” it added.
The government’s move to assign trustees comes two days after newly appointed Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu vowed to take control of 28 municipalities linked to terror within 15 days.
“With the authorization of the KHK, the administration of 28 municipalities will no longer be in the hands of terrorists or Kandil. They will continue under the administration of people who have absorbed that flag within their hearts,” Soylu said Sept. 9, referring to the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq, where the PKK has its headquarters.
The government was given authority to directly appoint trustees to municipalities in a state of emergency decree issued on Sept. 1 after the failed coup attempt of July 15.
According to the decree, the appointment of trustees to municipalities would be possible if mayors, deputy mayors or members of the municipal council were suspended on terror charges.
The regulation had previously been included in an omnibus bill in parliament but was later removed upon the opposition’s reaction.