(Recasts with ministry statement)
ISTANBUL, March 23 (Reuters) - Turkey has dismissed eight mayors being investigated for terrorism-related charges in eastern Turkey and replaced them with state officials, the Interior Ministry said on Monday, sustaining a crackdown on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
HDP co-leader Mithat Sancar earlier said authorities had detained mayors of five municipalities in mainly Kurdish areas as part of a crackdown revived after 2019 municipal elections.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that four mayors had been detained and there was an arrest warrant for a fifth, while the other three were under investigation. All eight of them were accused of being members of a terrorist group.
The mayors represented the city of Batman, the Diyarbakir province districts of Ergani, Egil, Lice and Silvan, along with districts in the provinces of Bitlis, Igdir and Siirt, the ministry said.
President Tayyip Erdogan and his government accuse the HDP of having links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, leading to prosecutions of thousands of its members and some leaders. The HDP denies such links.
The PKK is designated a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union and Turkey. More than 40,000 people have been killed in conflict since it took up arms in 1984.
Sancar told reporters security forces on Monday morning had besieged municipality buildings in the affected provinces.
“We reject with hatred this vile attempt that does not shy away from showing enmity against Kurds even in these difficult days when the whole world is battling an epidemic,” he said.
Ankara had previously appointed trustees to 31 municipalities won by the HDP in March 2019 local elections, an HDP source said, adding 21 co-mayors had been formally arrested so far, aside from those detained on Monday.
The former co-leaders of the HDP have both been jailed since 2016 on terrorism charges, with several other prominent members accused of supporting terrorism over what the government says are links to the PKK. (Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Ed Osmond and Mark Potter)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.