Turkey replaces four more pro-Kurdish mayors as crackdown widens

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey has replaced four mayors from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) with state officials, the offices of two provincial governors said on Tuesday, part of a widening crackdown on local councils controlled by the party.

Ankara accuses the HDP of links to militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It has now replaced a total of 12 mayors from the HDP on alleged links to terrorism since municipal elections in March.

The mayors in the towns of Kayapinar, Bismil and Kocakoy in the southeastern Diyarbakir province and the mayor of Ercis in the eastern province of Van were suspended and replaced by local administrators, the offices of the two regional governors said.

Authorities later formally arrested the mayors of Kayapinar, Kocakoy and Ercis, security and judicial sources said. Bismil’s former mayor was released under judicial control, the Diyarbakir prosecutor’s office said.

The HDP said six of its other candidates who won a majority of votes in the March mayoral elections were not given their election certificates because they had previously been dismissed from public office by decree.

In August, Turkey first removed the mayors of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van, three metropolitan cities won by the HDP.

Selcuk Mizrakli, who was removed from his office in Diyarbakir, was jailed pending trial on Tuesday, the provincial prosecutor’s office said.

Prior to the March municipal polls, around 100 mayors in towns held by the HDP had been replaced by state officials.

The former co-leaders of the pro-Kurdish 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.

The HDP denies links to the PKK but does not consider it a terrorist organization.

The moves against the HDP coincide with a Turkish military offensive in neighboring Syria against the YPG Kurdish militia, which Ankara also accuses of ties to the PKK. A five-day, U.S.-brokered pause in the offensive was due to expire later on Tuesday.

The HDP is the only party in the Turkish parliament that opposed Operation Peace Spring in northeast Syria.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen, Daren Butler and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Gareth Jones and Jonathan Spicer