Turkey ousts 28 mayors over PKK or Gulen links

People walk next to barriers in front of the Sur municipality building during a police operation on Sept 11, 2016, in Diyarbakir.
People walk next to barriers in front of the Sur municipality building during a police operation on Sept 11, 2016, in Diyarbakir. PHOTO: AFP

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Turkey on Sunday (Sept 11) ousted 28 mayors accused of links to Kurdish militants or US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, replacing them with state-appointed trustees in a major shake-up under emergency powers after a failed coup.

The mayors have been suspended from their posts on suspicion of links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which is waging a deadly insurgency in the southeast or Gulen, who is blamed for the July 15 failed coup, an interior ministry statement said.

They have been replaced by state-appointed trustees, similar to how administrators are appointed to head a company that goes into bankruptcy.

Twenty-four of the outgoing mayors are accused of links to the PKK and four of links to Gulen, the ministry said.

The reclusive cleric denies charges of masterminding the coup.

The move is the most important step yet taken by new Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu since he took over from Efkan Ala in a surprise reshuffle earlier this month.

Mr Soylu said the move meant that local municipalities would no longer be controlled by "terrorists or those under instructions from Qandil", referring to the PKK's mountain base in northern Iraq.

The move was taken within the three-month state of emergency imposed after the coup. The incumbents had been elected in 2014 local polls.

The municipalities affected - mainly in the Kurdish-dominated southeast - include hugely important urban areas known as centres of PKK activity such as Sur and Silvan in the Diyarbakir region and Nusaybin in the Mardin region.

The mayors of the cities of Batman and Hakkari in the southeast have also been replaced. The interior ministry said 12 of the mayors suspended are already under arrest.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), whose regional politicians were the among the chief targets of the move, denounced the reshuffle as a "coup".

In a statement, it said the move was reminiscent of the military takeover of 1980 and "ignored the will of the voters".

But Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag denied the authorities had ridden roughshod over democracy, accusing the suspended mayors of funnelling revenues to "terror" groups.

"Being elected does not grant a right to commit a crime," he wrote on Twitter.