ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey has dismissed 259 local officials for suspected links to terrorist groups or unsuitable behavior, the government said on Monday, a move the pro-Kurdish opposition said was aimed at helping the ruling AK Party ahead of 2019 polls.
The elected officials, known as “mukhtars”, serve as the lowest administrative authority in Turkey. Although not officially members of any political party, they are influential in decision-making in their villages and local districts.
The officials were dismissed pending an investigation, the Interior Ministry said, adding they were suspected of links to groups that threaten Turkey’s security or of behavior not befitting their duties. It did not elaborate on the charges.
The ministry did not give a geographic breakdown of the dismissals, but a parliamentarian from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said the move was the latest attempt by President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party to curtail the HDP’s influence in the largely Kurdish southeast.
“Following the arrest of municipality heads from the HDP, the appointment of trustees to municipalities and the removal of immunity and arrest of parliamentarians, it is now the mukhtars’ turn,” Meral Danis Bestas said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the HDP said she did not know how many of the dismissed officials came from the southeast.
Some 94 of 102 municipalities in Kurdish-majority cities and towns are now administered by trustees rather than by their elected mayors. Authorities removed those mayors, elected in the last municipal elections in 2014, in a security crackdown that followed an attempted military coup in 2016.
Erdogan has said the government would appoint trustees to any municipalities held by the HDP after March 2019 local elections.
Erdogan and his AK Party say the HDP has links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant group that has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984. The HDP denies accusations of links to the PKK and says it is being unjustly targeted by the government.
Last week the government dismissed 559 village guards for suspected terrorist links and another 76 for suspected involvement in human and drug smuggling.
Village guards are locals armed and paid by the state to protect their communities, mostly in the east and the southeast. They are frequent targets for PKK militants.
The PKK is deemed a terrorist organization by the United States, Turkey and Europe.
Additional reporting and writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by David Dolan and Gareth Jones