Ankara deepens crackdown on opposition politicians

Plainclothes police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest in Diyarbakir against the replacement of Kurdish mayors. (Reuters)
Updated 20 August 2019
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Ankara deepens crackdown on opposition politicians

  • Mayors of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van provinces suspended over alleged ties to outlawed PKK

DIYARBAKIR: The Turkish government removed three mayors from office on Monday over alleged links to Kurdish militants as Ankara deepened its crackdown on the opposition.

The mayors of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van provinces in eastern Turkey — all members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) elected in March — were suspended over alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

A simultaneous crackdown across 29 provinces saw hundreds arrested, in a sign that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has no intention of easing up on its hard line despite recent electoral setbacks.

Police intervened with water cannons as hundreds of people gathered outside Diyarbakir’s municipality to denounce the government’s actions.

The Interior Ministry said the suspended mayors had active cases against them for “spreading propaganda” or being a member of a terrorist organization, and would be replaced by the centrally  appointed governors of their provinces.

It accused them of attending funerals and visiting graves of “terrorists,” renaming streets and parks after imprisoned PKK members, and offering jobs to militants’ relatives.

The HDP denies ties to the PKK, which has fought a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state for much of the past 35 years.

Diyarbakir Mayor Selcuk Mizrakli told reporters outside municipal headquarters that the move “disregards the will of the people.”

The government launched a crackdown on opposition politicians as well as the public sector, media and civil society following a failed coup in July 2016.

Although the coup was not directly linked to the Kurdish issue, the crackdown saw 95 of 102 pro-Kurdish mayors removed from their posts and replaced with central government appointees.

Many were allowed to stand again in the March elections, despite criminal cases against them.

Hundreds of HDP members and around 40 of its mayors are currently in detention.

The former head of the party, Selahattin Demirtas, has been in prison since November 2016 — a case that has been criticized by the European Court of Human Rights.

In April, Turkish election officials annulled results in five districts and towns after they were won by people who had been removed from their posts under the two-year state of emergency that followed the attempted coup.

HDP lawmaker Garo Paylan responded to Monday’s suspensions by calling on all parties and the public to oppose what he called a “vile coup.”

“Remaining silent will mean Ankara, Istanbul next,” he tweeted, referring to the fact that the ruling party lost control of Turkey’s two biggest cities in this year’s local elections.

Turkish police also carried out raids across 29 provinces on Monday, including Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van, detaining 418 suspects over alleged PKK ties, the Interior Ministry said.

HDP co-leader Sezai Temelli told a press conference in Ankara that “none of our friends detained today are guilty of any crime.”

Turkey “cannot solve its democracy problem until the Kurdish issue was solved,” he added.

The sacked mayors — Mizrakli, Ahmet Turk and Bedia Ozgokce Ertanall — all won with large majorities in the March elections.

There was also criticism from the new Istanbul mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who was forced to rerun his own campaign this year after being controversially stripped of his initial victory.

“Ignoring the will of the people is unacceptable,” Imamoglu wrote on Twitter.


Thousands return to government-seized areas in northwest Syria: state media

Updated 15 September 2019
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Thousands return to government-seized areas in northwest Syria: state media

  • The Syrian Observatory reported “around 3,000 people” going home from other areas under regime control
  • The Idlib region is one of the last holdouts of opposition forces

DAMASCUS: Thousands have returned to their hometowns in northwest Syria after military advances by government loyalist against militants and allied rebels, state media said Sunday.
“Thousands of citizens return to their villages and towns of the northern Hama countryside and the southern Idlib countryside,” state news agency SANA said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, reported “around 3,000 people” going home from other areas under regime control.
Since August 31, a cease-fire announced by regime backer Russia has largely held in northwestern Syria, though the Observatory has reported sporadic bombardment.
SANA said the returns came amid “government efforts to return the displaced to their towns and villages.”
The Idlib region of around three million people, many of them dispaced by fighting in other areas, is one of the last holdouts of opposition to forces backing Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Moscow announced the cease-fire late last month after four months of deadly violence that displaced 400,000 people, most of whom fled north within the jihadist-run bastion, according to the United Nations.
Regime forces had chipped away at the southern edges of the jihadist-run stronghold throughout August, retaking towns and villages in the north of Hama province and the south of Idlib province.
Syria’s civil war has killed more than 370,000 people since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.
Assad’s regime now controls more than 60 percent of the country after notching up a series of victories against rebels and jihadists with key Russian backing since 2015.
But a large chunk of Idlib, fully administered by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate since January, as well as a Kurdish-held swathe of the oil-rich northeast, remain beyond its reach.