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Turkey removes pro-Kurdish mayors

Mahmut Bozarslan and Raziye Akkoc in Ankara
Turkish police stand guard in front of local council headquarters in Diyarbakir whose pro-Kurdish mayor was removed from office on Monday as part of a government crackdown on the opposition

The Turkish government removed three mayors from office on Monday over alleged links to Kurdish militants as Ankara deepened its crackdown on the opposition.

The mayors of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van provinces in eastern Turkey -- all members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) elected in March -- were suspended over alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

A simultaneous crackdown across 29 provinces saw hundreds arrested, in a sign that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has no intention of easing up on its hard line despite recent electoral setbacks.

Police intervened with water cannon as hundreds of people gathered outside Diyarbakir's municipality to denounce the government's actions.

The interior ministry said the suspended mayors had active cases against them for "spreading propaganda" or being a member of a terrorist organisation, and would be replaced by the centrally-appointed governors of their provinces.

It accused them of attending funerals and visiting graves of "terrorists", renaming streets and parks after imprisoned PKK members, and offering jobs to militants' relatives.

The HDP denies ties to the PKK, which has fought a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state for much of the past 35 years.

Diyarbakir mayor Selcuk Mizrakli told reporters outside municipal headquarters that the move "disregards the will of the people".

- 'Vile coup' -

The government launched a crackdown on opposition politicians as well as the public sector, media and civil society following a failed coup in July 2016.

Although the coup was not directly linked to the Kurdish issue, the crackdown saw 95 of 102 pro-Kurdish mayors removed from their posts and replaced with central government appointees.

Many were allowed to stand again in the March elections, despite criminal cases against them.

Hundreds of HDP members and around 40 of its mayors are currently in detention.

The former head of the party, Selahattin Demirtas, has been in prison since November 2016 -- a case that has been criticised by the European Court of Human Rights.

In April, Turkish election officials annulled results in five districts and towns after they were won by people who had been removed from their posts under the two-year state of emergency that followed the attempted coup.

HDP lawmaker Garo Paylan responded to Monday's suspensions by calling on all parties and the public to oppose what he called a "vile coup".

"Remaining silent will mean Ankara, Istanbul next," he tweeted, referring to the fact that the ruling party lost control of Turkey's two biggest cities in this year's local elections.

- Hundreds detained -

Turkish police also carried out raids across 29 provinces on Monday, including Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van, detaining 418 suspects over alleged PKK ties, the interior ministry said.

HDP co-leader Sezai Temelli told a press conference in Ankara that "none of our friends detained today are guilty of any crime".

Turkey "cannot solve its democracy problem until the Kurdish issue was solved," he added.

The sacked mayors -- Mızrakli, Ahmet Turk and Bedia Ozgokce Ertanall -- all won with large majorities in the March elections.

There was also criticism from the new Istanbul mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), who was forced to re-run his own campaign this year after being controversially stripped of his initial victory.

"Ignoring the will of the people is unacceptable," Imamoglu wrote on Twitter.