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Erdoğan hints at removal of more Kurdish mayors from office

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has backed the removal of a democratically elected Kurdish mayor from office in southeastern Turkey, implying that other Kurdish mayors could be ousted as well.

On Monday the interior ministry announced the removal of Hakkari Co-mayor Mehmet Sıddık Akış of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party) from office due to an ongoing investigation and a separate trial on terrorism-linked charges. He was replaced by Hakkari Governor Ali Çelik. The ministry’s move attracted widespread criticism and protests for being “anti-democratic” and “hijacking” the will of the Kurdish people.

In his first comments on Akış’s removal, Erdoğan said on Wednesday that the judiciary has done its job and will continue to do so.

“Hakkari was the first step,” he said, confirming concerns about the removal of other DEM Party mayors.

Erdoğan’s remarks about Akış came shortly after he was convicted of terrorism in a years-long trial that was concluded just three days after his removal. The former mayor, who was detained in a police operation on Monday, was arrested following his conviction at a high criminal court in Hakkari on Wednesday.

The president also slammed DEM Party protests over the removal of Akış, accusing party lawmakers who held a protest at parliament on Tuesday evening of “blowing the winds of terrorism” in the legislature.

He said the municipalities belong to the people and can’t be the “backyard” of anyone or any terrorist organization.

Erdoğan and his government accuse the DEM Party and its predecessors of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

Pro-Kurdish parties deny the accusation and describe it as politically motivated.

Akış, the first mayor ousted from office since the March 31 local elections when the DEM Party won a dozen provincial municipalities in the predominantly Kurdish southeast, was handed down a prison sentence of 19 years, six months at the 61st hearing of his trial.

He told the court it was thought-provoking that his trial was concluded with a conviction shortly after his election although the proceedings have been going on for years.

Akış’s conviction has increased the intensity of the protests that erupted in Hakkari and other cities in protest of his removal from office.

The protests have taken place despite a recent ban on public demonstrations, protests and marches in Hakkari and nine other provinces in the southeast in an apparent bid to prevent protests against the removal of the city’s mayor.

Turkey became acquainted with the removal of democratically elected Kurdish mayors from office on terrorism accusations after the local elections in 2016 and 2019.

There were hopes that the government would not resort to such a step this time, given the significant public support afforded DEM Party mayors in the country’s southeast in the local elections.

As a result, the removal of Akış came as a disappointment to many, leading to protests and calls on the government from various segments of society to end the controversial practice and respect the will of the Kurdish people.

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