Turkish ruling party politician gunned down in restive southeast

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - A politician of Turkey’s ruling AK party was shot dead on Wednesday in front of his house in the largely Kurdish southeast, where insurgency is rising and two dozen opposition mayors have been removed over alleged militant links.

Ahmet Budak, an AK Party politician who was an unsuccessful candidate in parliamentary elections last November, was gunned down in the Semdinli district of Hakkari province close to the borders with Iran and Iraq, security sources said.

Southeastern Turkey has seen a surge in violence since the PKK, which has waged a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy in the region, abandoned a ceasefire in 2015. Thousands of militants, security force members and civilians have been killed in fighting across the region.

Budak’s killing comes two days after militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) wounded 50 people in a car bombing in the nearby city of Van close to the offices of the AK Party, founded by President Tayyip Erdogan. The PKK said the bombing was partly a response to the removal from office on Sunday of two dozen mayors from Kurdish-run municipalities.

Erdogan, who also faces violent attacks by Islamic State militants, has vowed that a military campaign against the PKK will continue until it is eliminated.

It was the second assassination of an AKP official in as many months. PKK militants killed the head of a local branch of the party’s youth wing in August in the nearby province of Sirnak after abducting him and his brother.

More than 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey and its NATO allies, began its insurgency in 1984.

The military drive has stepped up in Hakkari province in recent days. The military said in a statement that nine militants had been killed in raids on Tuesday, in which a shelter, a cave and an ammunition depot were also destroyed. Seven more were killed on Wednesday, security sources said.

Erdogan has said Turkey has evidence that the mayors removed on Sunday had sent support to Kurdish militants. Most were associated with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), parliament’s third largest grouping, which denies direct links to the PKK.

It has decried the dismissals as an “administrative coup”.

Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Ralph Boulton; Editing by Seda Sezer and Ralph Boulton