The Turkish Interior Ministry on Monday removed the mayors in Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van - all members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) - from office on charges of links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, which is designated by Turkey as a terrorist group. The mayors were replaced with their Ankara-appointed provincial governors, Presstv Reported.
Riot police used water cannon against at least 200 people in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir who tried to stage a protest march on the historic Sur district on Wednesday. Several protesters were arrested.
Police officers also surrounded a sit-in of 200 people in the province.
Meanwhile, special police forces carried out raids on homes of twelve municipality workers at dawn and detained them for suspected links to PKK militants.
Over 500 people have been arrested in the past three days, including HDP members and supporters protesting against the mayors' ousting, a party source told AFP.
Ankara says the HDP is a political front for the PKK, which has been on the insurgency side for autonomy in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast since 1984, and is deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The HDP denies any affiliation to the outlawed Kurdish militant group, but has tried to broker peace talks between the militants and Ankara. It says the sackings amount to a political coup and indicate a hostile stance against the political will of the Kurdish people.
Speaking at a press conference in Istanbul on Wednesday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the sackings were necessary to "prevent the abuse of democracy" by people who, he said, have used municipal resources to back "terrorists."
"The main problem is the attitude of the HDP which is defying the state by nominating as mayors these people who already face prosecution... They are treating democracy as a Trojan Horse."
The interior ministry said on Monday that the mayors had active cases against them in which they were accused of crimes such as establishing or spreading propaganda for the militant group, or just being a member.
Soylu also downplayed the protests, saying there was no serious unrest and life was continuing as normal.