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Turkey’s government will take over the running of 28 municipalities, ousting elected mayors and other administrators accused of links to the Kurdish rebels, the interior minister said Friday. The announcement by Suleyman Soylu came a day after the country’s education ministry suspended as many as 11,285 of its personnel, including teachers, because of suspicions they may be linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
Turkey declared a state of emergency following a failed military coup attempt on July 15 that allows the government to rule by decree. It has since suspended tens of thousands of people from government jobs over suspected links to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen whom Turkey accuses of masterminding the coup. Gulen has denied any role in the coup attempt.
Thursday’s dismissals of the teachers for alleged links to Kurdish militants have led to renewed accusations that the government was engaged in a witch-hunt against critics and opponents. Hundreds of demonstrators, including teachers who were suspended, took to the streets in the mainly-Kurdish city of Diyarbakir to protest the government move. Police used shields and water cannon to disperse the group and some demonstrators were detained.
A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government rules, has told a group of reporters and the suspension of the teachers were based on “concrete evidence” including financial ties and efforts to recruit for the rebels.
Soylu said the takeover of the municipalities would take place within the next two weeks. “Under the authority provided by the decree with the force of law, within 15 days, the administration of 28 municipalities will no longer be with the terrorists,” the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Soylu as saying.
“The administration of the 28 municipalities will not be conducted under the orders of Qandil but by the people who have taken the (Turkish flag) into their hearts,” he added, referring to Qandil mountain in northern Iraq where the PKK’s leadership is based.
Violence between the PKK and Turkey’s security forces resumed last year, after the collapse of a two-year peace process. Hundreds of security force members, militants and civilians have been killed since. Turkey and its allies have labelled the PKK a terror organization.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party of being the PKK’s political arm _ an accusation the People’s Democratic Party rejects. Soylu also said that Turkey would employ some 20,000 police officers to replace officers who have been sacked for alleged links to the coup or to Gulen’s movement.