Removal of Istanbul, Ankara mayors 'not on agenda' - presidential spokesman

Dismissing opposition mayors in Turkey’s two largest cities is “not on the government’s agenda”, Turkish presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın said during a press briefing on Thursday, as controversy continues over the government’s suspension of three mayors in the country’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) mayors of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van were dismissed on Monday by the Turkish government, which accuses them of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PKK is deemed a terrorist organisation by Ankara due to its decades-long armed struggle against the Turkish state for Kurdish self-rule.

“There will be no such measures taken against any mayors who have not participated in criminal activities of supporting, aiding or being accessory to terrorist organisations”, secularist daily Cumhuriyet quoted Kalın as saying.

The decision to remove the mayors, whose candidacy was approved by Turkey’s Supreme Election Council prior to this year’s March 31 local elections, has been met with protests from citizens and political and legal organisations.

The mayors each received strong mandates in their municipalities, with over 50 percent of the vote. But, Kalın said, “no one will be held as innocent just because they were elected”.

The government says the three mayors had used their positions to support the PKK and funnel money to businesses linked to the group.

Before the elections were held, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned that mayors deemed to have links to the PKK would be replaced with government appointees.

This was the measure taken against dozens of mayors of municipalities won by the HDP in the 2014 local elections.

Several Turkish columnists, including Ersin Ramoğlu at the influential pro-government daily Sabah, speculated that the secularist main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayors of Istanbul and Ankara could be next in the firing line after the Kurdish cities’ mayors were replaced by government appointees.

Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş was accused of corruption before the March 31 polls, while İmamoğlu was forced to run for Istanbul a second time after Justice and Development Party government said his victory in the first poll had been the result of electoral fraud by unnamed actors.

Kalın said the mayors in the southeastern cities had not been suspended arbitrarily, and that other mayors from the HDP with similar political viewpoints were continuing to run their municipalities unabated. Yet “those who break the rules (of democracy), be it through a crime related to terror, petty crime or corruption” would be subject to legal action, he said.