ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s interior minister on Tuesday threatened “to devastate” the mayor of Istanbul over his support for three Kurdish mayors who were replaced by state officials over alleged terror links less than five months after the trio were elected.
Last month, Turkey replaced pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) mayors in Diyarbakir, Van and Mardin with state officials, and detained more than 400 people over suspected militant links, in a move sharply criticized by the opposition.
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu - who dealt President Tayyip Erdogan the biggest defeat of his career when he defeated the ruling AK Party (AKP) in June local elections - has slammed the move as illegal and undemocratic and called for it to be reversed.
At the weekend Imamoglu - of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who was backed by HDP when he was elected in June - visited Kurdish town of Diyarbakir and met with two of the ousted mayors.
Erdogan and his government accuse the HDP of links to the PKK militant group that is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the United States. The HDP denies such links.
Speaking in the northeastern province of Bursa on Tuesday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the dismissals of the three mayors, who were elected in late March, were in line with the law.
“Ignorant. Know your place and your limits,” Soylu said of Imamoglu. “This country has been handling this terrorist organisation for 40 years... If you meddle in things that are not your job, we will devastate you.”
The minister added: “This is very clear... While there are people who have suffered from terror for years, such a support for men who mourn at terrorist funerals will hurt our hearts and those of our people.”
The comments come a week after Imamoglu’s announcement that the Istanbul municipality cancelled the transfer of more than 350 million lira ($61 million) to some pro-AKP foundations, in one of his first moves against Erdogan since being elected.
Erdogan has previously said that his government would also replace mayors in other parts of the country if they were found to be linked to militants. But Imamoglu has dismissed those comments as meaningless and saddening.
Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer