Ankara deepens crackdown on opposition politicians

Plainclothes police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest in Diyarbakir against the replacement of Kurdish mayors. (Reuters)
Updated 20 August 2019

Ankara deepens crackdown on opposition politicians

  • Mayors of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van provinces suspended over alleged ties to outlawed PKK

DIYARBAKIR: The Turkish government removed three mayors from office on Monday over alleged links to Kurdish militants as Ankara deepened its crackdown on the opposition.

The mayors of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van provinces in eastern Turkey — all members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) elected in March — were suspended over alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

A simultaneous crackdown across 29 provinces saw hundreds arrested, in a sign that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has no intention of easing up on its hard line despite recent electoral setbacks.

Police intervened with water cannons as hundreds of people gathered outside Diyarbakir’s municipality to denounce the government’s actions.

The Interior Ministry said the suspended mayors had active cases against them for “spreading propaganda” or being a member of a terrorist organization, and would be replaced by the centrally  appointed governors of their provinces.

It accused them of attending funerals and visiting graves of “terrorists,” renaming streets and parks after imprisoned PKK members, and offering jobs to militants’ relatives.

The HDP denies ties to the PKK, which has fought a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state for much of the past 35 years.

Diyarbakir Mayor Selcuk Mizrakli told reporters outside municipal headquarters that the move “disregards the will of the people.”

The government launched a crackdown on opposition politicians as well as the public sector, media and civil society following a failed coup in July 2016.

Although the coup was not directly linked to the Kurdish issue, the crackdown saw 95 of 102 pro-Kurdish mayors removed from their posts and replaced with central government appointees.

Many were allowed to stand again in the March elections, despite criminal cases against them.

Hundreds of HDP members and around 40 of its mayors are currently in detention.

The former head of the party, Selahattin Demirtas, has been in prison since November 2016 — a case that has been criticized by the European Court of Human Rights.

In April, Turkish election officials annulled results in five districts and towns after they were won by people who had been removed from their posts under the two-year state of emergency that followed the attempted coup.

HDP lawmaker Garo Paylan responded to Monday’s suspensions by calling on all parties and the public to oppose what he called a “vile coup.”

“Remaining silent will mean Ankara, Istanbul next,” he tweeted, referring to the fact that the ruling party lost control of Turkey’s two biggest cities in this year’s local elections.

Turkish police also carried out raids across 29 provinces on Monday, including Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van, detaining 418 suspects over alleged PKK ties, the Interior Ministry said.

HDP co-leader Sezai Temelli told a press conference in Ankara that “none of our friends detained today are guilty of any crime.”

Turkey “cannot solve its democracy problem until the Kurdish issue was solved,” he added.

The sacked mayors — Mizrakli, Ahmet Turk and Bedia Ozgokce Ertanall — all won with large majorities in the March elections.

There was also criticism from the new Istanbul mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who was forced to rerun his own campaign this year after being controversially stripped of his initial victory.

“Ignoring the will of the people is unacceptable,” Imamoglu wrote on Twitter.


Sudan’s government, rebels start peace talks in Juba

Updated 13 min 24 sec ago

Sudan’s government, rebels start peace talks in Juba

  • The transitional authorities have six months to make peace with the rebels, according to the agreement
  • Achieving peace is crucial to the transitional government in Sudan

CAIRO: Sudan’s new transitional government met with rebel leaders on Monday, kicking off peace talks aimed at ending the country’s yearslong civil wars.
The peace initiative was built into a power-sharing deal between Sudan’s army and its pro-democracy movement. That deal was reached after the overthrow of longtime autocrat President Omar Al-Bashir in April. The transitional authorities have six months to make peace with the rebels, according to the agreement.
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir is hosting the talks in its capital, Juba, where some rebel groups signed a draft agreement last month that detailed a roadmap for the talks, trust-building measures and an extension of a cease-fire already in place.
South Sudan gained independence from the north in 2011 after decades of civil war. But in the 2000s, Sudan was most known for Al-Bashir’s brutal repression of an uprising in the western Darfur region.
Achieving peace is crucial to the transitional government in Sudan. It has counted on ending the wars with rebels in order to revive the country’s battered economy through slashing the military spending, which takes up much of the national budget.
Sudanese authorities have introduced good-will signals. They dismissed death sentences against eight rebel leaders and released more than a dozen prisoners of war. They have also delayed the formation of the parliament and the appointment of provincial governors to allow time for the rebels to come on board.
The government delegation, led by Gen. Mohammed Hamadan Dagalo, a member of the Sudan’s sovereign council, arrived in Juba late Sunday. Rebel leaders arrived earlier this month.
Rebel leader Malik Agar of the Sudan Revolutionary Front, an alliance of Darfur rebel groups, told The Associated Press that they would start “the official opening” of the talks Monday in Juba.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of Sudan’s sovereign council, also arrived in Juba to attend the opening session, along with other African leaders including Egypt’s Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, according to the official SUNA news agency.
Ethiopia and the African Union mediated the power-sharing agreement in August which ended months of violence and faltering talks between Sudan’s generals and protesters following the uprising against Al-Bashir.
On Sunday, Sudan’s newly appointed top judicial officials were sworn in before Burhan.
Neamat Kheir, a veteran female judge, took the oath as chief of the judiciary. She’s the first woman to rise to Sudan’s highest judicial post. Taj Al-Ser Al-Hebr, a lawyer, was sworn in as the country’s public prosecutor.
Last month, thousands of Sudanese took to the streets demanding the two original appointees be sacked. Those two were chosen by the military council that ruled Sudan after ousting Al-Bashir.
Protesters had insisted that independent judges be appointed before prosecuting members of the old regime, as well as those responsible for a deadly crackdown on protesters in June.
Unlike many judges, Kheir was not known to compromise her integrity to serve the interests of Al-Bashir’s government. However, she was widely criticized for not having supported the Sudanese uprising since its inception.