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Turkey detains pro-Kurdish mayor as crackdown widens

By AFP

Added 17th November 2016 05:21 PM

Bekir Kaya was taken into custody as part of a "terror investigation", the official news agency Anadolu reported, saying he was accused of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo/AFP

Bekir Kaya was taken into custody as part of a "terror investigation", the official news agency Anadolu reported, saying he was accused of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Turkish police on Thursday detained the pro-Kurdish co-mayor of the southeastern city of Van, expanding a crackdown on municipal chiefs throughout the region that has sparked international concern.

Bekir Kaya was taken into custody as part of a "terror investigation", the official news agency Anadolu reported, saying he was accused of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Four other municipal officials in the city, which has a mixed Kurdish and Turkish population, were also detained, Anadolu said.

The targeting of city heads follows the arrest of 10 MPs from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), including its co-leaders, who are being held on charges of links to the PKK.

Kamuran Yuksek, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP), a sister party to the HDP, was detained on Thursday. Kaya is also a DBP representative.

On Wednesday, mayors in the southeastern city of Siirt and the eastern city of Tunceli were detained following similar accusations of links to the PKK, Anadolu said.

And last month the two mayors of the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, Gultan Kisanak and Firat Anli, were detained and charged with belonging to the PKK.

All the mayors were elected in 2014 local elections.

EU visit cancelled

With tensions flaring in Van, police used tear gas and water cannon outside the municipality to disperse dozens of protesters backing the detained mayor, an AFP photographer said.

Turkey declared a state of emergency following a failed coup on July 15, arresting tens of thousands in a widespread crackdown which critics say has gone well beyond the alleged plotters to include anyone daring to criticise President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

EU and US officials have expressed concern over the arrest of opposition lawmakers as fears grow over Turkey's use of emergency laws.

In a sign of the tensions with the West, top EU lawmakers on Wednesday cancelled a visit to Turkey in a dispute over the format of the trip.

The crackdown comes as Ankara wages a relentless battle to crush the PKK, which has stepped up attacks since the collapse of a two-and-a-half-year ceasefire in July 2015.

The PKK has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984 and is proscribed as a terrorist group by both Washington and Brussels.

The HDP, which denies accusations it is a front for the PKK, condemned the coup bid but had also vowed to oppose moves by Erdogan to implement a presidential system.

Caretakers appointed

Government-appointed trustees have been named to replace all the detained mayors, the interior ministry said in a statement.

The move is controversial given that the mayors are all directly elected and only provincial governors are appointed by the government.

HDP spokesman Ayhan Bilgen condemned the appointments, saying that it demonstrated that the government "does not recognise the will of the local people".

He said that the HDP was being targeted because of its opposition to the presidential system. "On the way to a presidency, our party is to be sacrificed like a victim... We will not allow this," he told reporters at HDP headquarters in Ankara.

In Van, Kaya was suspended and replaced by the regional governor, an interior ministry statement said, with similar moves made in cities like Mardin, Tunceli and Siirt.

Bilgen said in 34 local authorities, including three large municipalities, state administrators had been appointed while a total of 39 mayors have been arrested in the last months.

Like many mayors in the majority-Kurdish southeast, Kaya worked with a female co-mayor in a policy spearheaded by the HDP to promote gender equality.

Turkish media said he was sentenced to 15 years in jail for membership of the PKK in January but was free pending appeal.

Van, situated on a beautiful lake and whose history dates back to the Urartu kingdom three millennia ago, is one of the key tourist destinations of the Turkish sout-heast and increasingly popular with visitors from neighbouring Iran.

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