Dec 09 2017

Removal of Turkish mayor ramps up political tensions

Residents came out in protest and the main opposition party accused the government of fascism after the interior ministry removed a well-known mayor of Istanbul, accusing him of corruption.

The crowd assembled outside the municipality building in the Atasehir district shouting “break your silence: if you are silent your turn will come”.

Meanwhile, Aykut Erdoğdu, spokesman for the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said that the removal of Battal İlgezdi, the mayor of the popular residential district, amounted to mere “revenge” by the government for corruption allegations that the CHP has levelled against it.

“To remove the mayors of opposition municipalities in this way only happens in fascist regimes,” he said.

Political tensions between the government and CHP have intensified after party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu accused members of the family of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of funnelling millions of dollars out of Turkey to offshore bank accounts. The accusations, made two weeks ago, coincide with a trial in New York, in which an Iranian-Turkish businessman alleged that Erdoğan was complicit in a scheme to avoid U.S. sanctions on Iran.

An Interior Ministry statement said that İlgezdi was under investigation for matters including meddling in public tenders, wrongfully enriching himself and turning a blind eye to the incorrect preparation of documents by public servants.

The government’s step follows the removal of over a hundred district and city mayors belonging to the majority-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and Democratic Regions Party (BDP). They were replaced with government-appointed trustees under a state of emergency that has continued since the failed July 2016 coup attempt.

Erk Acarer, a journalist for leftist newspaper BirGün, said that Ilgezdi’s removal was only a “first step” against the CHP.

Kemal Özkiraz, a pollster, said that an unpublished public survey showed that İlgezdi was Istanbul’s most popular mayor.

“The AKP (ruling Justice and Development Party) know very well where to shoot,” he said in comments published on Twitter.

The corruption charges follow claims by pro-government media of a link between a 1.6 million lira public tender and the ownership by Ilgezdi’s wife, CHP Istanbul parliamentarian Gamze İlgezdi, of 15 apartments in two luxury residential developments in Istanbul. One of the properties is in Buz Rezidans, a complex where Kılıçdaroğlu’s daughter also owns an apartment, Cumhuriyet newspaper said.

The message is that the business interests of Erdoğan family should be forgotten, Cumhuriyet said.