ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey has opened an investigation into hundreds of employees of the opposition-run Istanbul Municipality accused of links to militant groups, drawing heavy criticism from the city’s mayor on Monday. city regarding the management of the survey.
Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu hails from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and is seen as a potential challenger to President Tayyip Erdogan.
Since a failed coup in 2016, Turkey has investigated and tried tens of thousands of people accused of militant links in a crackdown that rights groups say has been used as a pretext to stifle dissent. The government said its actions were necessary given the severity of the threats Turkey faces.
The Interior Ministry said on Twitter on Sunday that it had launched an investigation into 455 people working for the municipality and related companies accused of links with Kurdish militants, as well as more than 100 people allegedly linked to groups of left and others.
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Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the investigation was not directed at the city council itself.
“Our business is not with anyone’s municipality. Our business is with the fight against terrorism and we have to keep Turkey on high alert,” Soylu told reporters.
He said those targeted are “not just those cleaning and sweeping the streets”, but could also include some in leadership positions.
Imamoglu criticized the ministry’s statement, made via Twitter, saying it suggested those to be investigated had already been tried.
“You give a number (of suspects) and make a judgment and then launch an investigation,” Imamoglu said in comments to reporters. “What sort of investigation is this? If you’ve made a decision, take them by the ear to jail.”
He said the ministry had not provided information about the interviewees, two weeks after Soylu first reported them, adding that municipal procedures for hiring staff included checking whether applicants had a criminal record.
Opinion polls show Erdogan’s approval rating has hit its lowest level in six years and he could lose to potential presidential rivals in elections scheduled for 2023.
Imamoglu took office in 2019 after defeating the candidate of Erdogan’s ruling AK party. Although he has been touted as a potential challenger, he told Reuters this month his only goal was to do his job as mayor.
(Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Peter Graff)
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