Tear gas and rubber bullets were used by Turkish police in Istanbul on Wednesday evening to disperse a group who were set to stage a sit-in at one of the city’s parks in protest against the government’s removal of three opposition mayors.
The Istanbul version of “Democracy Watch” sit-ins was set to take place at 5.00 pm at the Esenyurt Square. Police, however, surrounded the area, citing a governorate ban on meetings and demonstrations at the square.
When the crowd, led by lawmakers Garo Paylan, Huda Kaya, Kemal Bulbul, Ahmet Sik, Necdet Ipekyuz, and Omer Ocalan from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), insisted on staging the demonstration on the 39th day since the mayors removal, police officers used tear gas and plastic bullets on the gathering.
Despite the lawmakers’ efforts, the protesters were beaten and six of them were taken into custody during the crackdown. The six were later reported to be released after police questioning.
Following the intervention, the five lawmakers were reportedly able to continue their sit-ins thanks to their immunity from prosecution. The Istanbul sit-in is set to continue until September 30.
On August 19, HDP’s three mayors – Adnan Selcuk Mizrakli in Diyarbakir, Ahmet Turk in Mardin, and Bedia Ozgokce Ertan in Van – were ousted by Turkey’s interior ministry which replaced them with governmental officials.
The decision also resulted in additional detainments of 418 civilians, mainly municipal council members and employees from 29 different provinces across the country.
The removed mayors, who were elected in the March 31 election, and the detained HDP members are under criminal investigation for alleged links to terrorism.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government accuses the HDP of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group which has waged a three-decade insurgency in the country.
Prior to the March 31 elections, the HDP’s 90 mayors had also been removed from their posts in the aftermath of a failed coup bid that targeted the AKP on July 15, 2016, due to similar terror-related charges.
Most of the deposed mayors, including Mardin’s second-time deposed Turk, were again elected as mayors from the HDP ranks in the March 31 local elections.
Besides nation-wide protests, the AKP-led mayoral removals and detentions also drew criticism from international authorities.
Last week, the European Parliament (EP) denounced the removal of democratically elected mayors through an adopted resolution, saying the replacements and detentions had been carried out on “unsubstantiated allegations.”
“The replacement of mayors by state governors is of serious concern as it calls into question respect for the democratic outcomes of the 31 March 2019 elections,” the resolution stated.
According to some critics, the AKP move came after the ousted mayors had promised to investigate the financial dealings of the governors who were appointed as trustees in 2016 and served until the March 31 elections.
Before their replacement, the three mayors had started to reveal the AKP-appointed bureaucrats’ lavish excess, amounting to millions of liras.