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Governor’s office requests statement from anti-refugee mayor over alleged discrimination

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The governor’s office of the western Turkish province of Afyonkarahisar has requested a written statement from the Afyonkarahisar mayor, known for her anti-refugee views, over claims of discrimination against an Iraqi national, the Afyon Postası news website reported on Thursday.

Mayor Burcu Köksal from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) was asked by the governor’s office about allegations that she withheld a business license from an Iraqi national named Moussa G. who sought to open a gym in the city despite the fact that he had submitted the required documents.

A letter sent to Köksal by Deputy Governor Fatih Topuz said Moussa G.’s documents were held for a long time after they were submitted and that a city employee allegedly told him he would not be able to open the gym no matter what he did since Köksal had issued orders to that effect.

Köksal, however, has denied the accusations. She told Halk TV that only one Turkish citizen had applied to the municipality for a license and was not granted it due to non-compliance with relevant regulations, adding that no one named Moussa G. had applied to the municipality for a license.

She said the Iraqi national was already operating the gym and that it was closed down by the municipality for lacking a business license. The mayor said the closure of the gym was in line with the law.

Köksal assumed office in Afyonkarahisar, known as one of Turkey’s nationalist heartlands, after winning a decisive victory in the March 31 local elections by garnering 50.7 percent of the vote, ending the 20-year rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the city.

This is not the first incident in which Köksal has been accused of discrimination over ethnic identity.

She came to public attention during her election campaign with remarks targeting the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party), sparking outrage among Kurdish voters when she said the doors of the municipality would be open to all parties except the DEM Party.

After assuming office, Köksal closed down five businesses in the city that were operated by Syrians without business licenses in April.

She accompanied the police when they were closing down the businesses, which included a fitness center and grocery stores in several neighborhoods.

Köksal told reporters that as she promised during her election campaign, she would send all refugees away from Afyonkarahisar.

“I will do whatever it takes to send refugees away from our beautiful Afyonkarahisar,” she said on X, where she also posted photos and a short video from the closing of the illegal places of business.

Human rights activists and rights defenders slammed Köksal, describing her actions as “racist.” They said if she had ordered the closure of all businesses operating without business licenses, it would have been fine, but that her targeting of refugees specifically reveals her “racist” mindset.

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