Turkey removes 24 elected mayors over suspected links to militants

Turkey appointed new administrators in two dozen Kurdish-run municipalities on Sunday after removing their elected mayors over suspected links to militants, triggering pockets of protest in its volatile southeastern region bordering Syria and Iraq, reports Reuters.

Police fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse demonstrators outside local government buildings in Suruc on the Syrian border as new administrators took over, security sources said. There were smaller protests elsewhere in the town.

There were also disturbances in the main regional city of Diyarbarkir and in Hakkari province near the Iraqi border, where police entered the municipality building and unfurled a large red Turkish flag, taking down the white local government flags that had previously flown.

President Tayyip Erdogan said this week the campaign against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants, who have waged a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy, was now Turkey's largest ever. The removal of civil servants linked to them was a key part of the fight.

The 24 municipalities had been run by the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the third largest in parliament, which denies direct links to the militants. It decried the move as an "administrative coup".

Turkey's battle against the PKK resumed with a new intensity after a ceasefire collapsed last year and with attempts by Kurdish groups in Syria's war to carve out an autonomous Kurdish enclave on Turkey's border.

In a message to mark the Muslim Eid al Adha holiday, Erdogan said the PKK had been trying to step up attacks since a failed military coup in July and that they aimed to disrupt Turkish military operations in Syria.

The U.S. embassy said it was concerned by reports of clashes in the southeast and that while it supported Turkey's right to combat terrorism, it was important to respect the right to peaceful protest.

The crackdown comes as Ankara also pushes ahead with a purge of tens of thousands of supporters of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Turkey of orchestrating the attempted coup in July. Gulen denies any involvement.

The mayors of four other municipalities, three from the ruling AK Party and one from the nationalist MHP opposition, were also replaced over alleged links to what the authorities call the "Gulen Terror Organisation", or FETO.

The interior ministry said the 28 mayors, 12 of whom are formally under arrest, were under investigation for providing "assistance and support" to the PKK and to Gulen's organization.

Turkey has sacked or suspended more than 100,000 people since the failed coup. At least 40,000 people have been detained on suspicion of links to Gulen's network.

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