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Turkish police detain Van's pro-Kurdish mayor

Bekir Kaya has been detained by Turkish authorities on suspicion of membership in the PKK militant group. It puts Ankara in control of 29 municipalities in the largely pro-Kurdish southeastern region.

Türkei Kurden demonstrieren in Istambul (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Suna)

A crackdown against the pro-Kurdish HDP and its affiliated parties has sparked public unrest in southeastern Turkey

The mayor of the city of Van, Bekir Kaya, was detained Thursday as part of a "terror investigation," Turkish state news reported.

He and four other officials stand accused of membership in the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). 

Kaya, who is from the sister-party of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP), reportedly faces up to 15 years in prison if found guilty. He had previously been found guilty of supposed terrorism links but is appealing the verdict.

The latest detention raises the total number of municipalities in southeast Turkey under Ankara's direct control to 29. On Wednesday, the mayors of Siirt and Tunceli were also detained on similar charges, while last month, officials announced that two mayors from the southeast's largest city, Diyarbakir, were charged with "belonging to an armed terrorist organization" and providing "logistical support to an armed terrorist organization."

All mayors were to appointed to office in 2014 local elections.

The Turkish government has named specially appointed trustees to replace the detained mayors, the Interior Ministry said. The appointments are controversial given that all mayors are directly elected; typically only provincial governors are appointed. Kaya will be replaced by Van city governor Ibrahim Tasyapan.

The targeting of city heads in largely pro-Kurdish cities in southeastern Turkey follows the arrest of 10 HDP members, including its two co-leaders, earlier in November on suspicion of links to the PKK.

Europe condemns Erdogan purge

Turkey is fighting an insurgent PKK in the southeast of the country. The PKK is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union. However, the wave of arrests of politicians and journalists on suspicion of links to the group has caused international alarm.

European Union officials have accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of using July's abortive coup and subsequent state of emergency as a pretext to curtail dissent.

In a sign of rising tensions between Turkey and Europe, EU lawmakers canceled a trip to Turkey on Wednesday after Ankara announced that it would refuse to meet MEP Kati Piri because of her critical comments on Erdogan's post-coup crackdown. The two sides had hoped to restore political dialogue between Ankara and Brussels.

Turkey's crackdown on pro-Kurdish politicians runs in parallel with its purge against people accused of being loyalists to the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. The government has accused Gulen of orchestrating the attempted military putsch, charges he has denied as he remains in exile in the United States.

More than 110,000 people have been sacked or suspended from the military, civil service, judiciary and other sectors. Some 36,000 have been imprisoned pending trial as part of the government's investigation into the fail coup.

dm/sms (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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