Turkey took over two south-eastern councils run by a pro-Kurdish party and suspended more than 11,000 teachers on Thursday as Ankara ratcheted up a crackdown on those it accuses of ties to Kurdish militants fighting an insurgency in the southeast.
The crackdown comes as Ankara pushes ahead with a purge against tens of thousands of supporters of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Turkey of orchestrating an attempted coup in July. He denies any involvement.
Security officials said the state appointed administrators to the Sur district of the southeast’s largest city Diyarbakir, an area severely damaged in fighting between security forces and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.
The Silvan district of Diyarbakir province was also brought under the control of administrators, with both councils targeted over what the officials said was their support for the PKK, deemed a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies.
The Democratic Regions Party (DBP), which runs the councils and many across the region, has been dubbed by President Tayyip Erdogan as an extension of the PKK, which has fought a three-decades-old conflict in the mainly Kurdish southeast.
The DBP is the local partner of Turkey’s national pro-Kurdish opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
The government also suspended 11,500 teachers over alleged links to the PKK, an official said, after Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said during a visit to the region over the weekend that there were an estimated 14,000 teachers with links to the militants.
Erdogan said in a speech that Turkey was conducting the largest operations in its history against Kurdish militants in the south-east and that the removal of civil servants with links to them was a key element of the fight.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict since the PKK took up arms in 1984 and the fighting flared up in July last year after the collapse of a two-year old ceasefire.