Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday defended the suspension of 28 mayors over alleged links to Kurdish militants or US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, saying it was a long-overdue move.
?To me, it is a step that came late. It should have been taken long before,? Erdogan told reporters after prayers at an Istanbul mosque on the first day of the Muslim feast of Eid Al-Adha.
?You, as mayors and municipal councils, cannot stand up and support terrorist organisations. You do not have such an authority,? he said.
Twenty-four of the outgoing mayors are accused of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers? Party (PKK) which is waging a deadly insurgency in the southeast, and four of them to Gulen, whom the authorities blame for the attempted July 15 coup.
The latest step was taken under the state of emergency imposed in the wake of the coup, with the ousted mayors, who were elected in the 2014 local elections, replaced by state-appointed trustees.
Erdogan accused the ousted mayors of ?sending state funds to the mountain,? referring to the areas where the PKK is holed up.
?They are carrying TNT (explosives)? they constitute a constant threat in the region,? he said.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also said some municipalities had turned into a ?logistical centre for the separatist terrorist organisation.?
The municipalities affected by the decision are mainly in the Kurdish-dominated southeast including Sur in the Diyarbakir region which has been ravaged by violence between the PKK and security forces.
Critics have accused the government of using the state of emergency to implement a vast crackdown, but Ankara has defended the measures as crucial at a time when Turkey is battling alleged coup plotters and the PKK insurgency.
In a statement, the US embassy in Ankara expressed concerns over the resulting clashes in the southeast between protesters and police after the mayors were suspended.
?As Turkish authorities investigate allegations that some local officials have participated in or provided material support to terrorist groups, we note the importance of respect for judicial due process and individual rights, including the right of peaceful political expression, as enshrined in the Turkish Constitution,? it said.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who took over from his predecessor Efkan Ala earlier this month, said the US embassy?s reaction was ?unacceptable?.
He said the mayors had been removed from their posts in line with the law, and denounced the American statement as ?interference in Turkey?s domestic affairs.?
?We are fighting with our allies against any form of terrorism but such statements that are far from this responsibility would only encourage terror,? he said.