Turkey replaces Kurdish mayors in crackdown on Syria criticism

Five of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party said five of its co-mayors had been jailed pending trial

Co-leader of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Sezai Temelli (C) arrives to give a press conference on Turkish military operation in Syria, in Istanbul, on October 13, 2019.  Fighting has engulfed the border area in northeastern Syria since Turkey launched an offensive on October 9 to push back the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), displacing 130,000 people so far according to the United Nations, amidst warnings from aid groups of another humanitarian disaster in Syria's eight-year-old war if the offensive is not halted. / AFP / Yasin AKGUL
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Turkish authorities have replaced five mayors in Kurdish-majority areas of southeastern Turkey in a crackdown on domestic criticism about the country's widely condemned operation in northern Syria.

Turkey's pro-Kurdish party, the People's Democratic Party, confirmed that its co-mayors were replaced in several towns in Kurdish-majority areas, and put in prison pending trial.

The towns where they were replaced were Hakkari, Yuksekova and Nusaybin.

Turkey has launched a crackdown against dissent in its majority Kurdish areas following its assault against Kurdish-controlled parts of neighbouring Syria. Protests have been broken up with tear gas and scores of people have been arrested for criticising the military campaign online.

The HDP governs many cities in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey. It typically appoints one male and one female co-mayor to promote gender equality.

Semire Nergiz and Ferhat Kut, co-mayors of Nusaybin, were accused of being members of a terrorist organisation and replaced by a state-apppointed trustee on Friday, the HDP said.

Yuksekova co-mayors Remziye Yasar and Irfan Sari were jailed for their interviews, columns and social media posts. It was not immediately clear what the Hakkari mayor Cihan Kahraman was accused of.

The state-owned Anadolu news agency said on Friday local administrators had been appointed to replace mayors in Yuksekova and Hakkari.

Nusaybin is a town on the Syrian border in the southeastern Mardin province, while Hakkari and Yuksekova are situated on the border with Iran. Nusaybin has been the target of cross-border attacks during the operation, with a mortar and rocket attack by Kurdish militants last week killing eight people and wounding 35 others.

Friday's moves came just hours after Turkey agreed with the United States to pause its offensive in Syria for five days to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from a planned "safe zone" in Syria's north-east.

While most of Turkey's opposition parties have backed the offensive against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, the HDP has called for it to stop, describing it as an "invasion attempt". HDP says the operation was an attempt by the government to drum up support amid declining public backing.

The former co-leaders of the pro-Kurdish HDP have both been jailed since 2016 on terrorism charges, with several other prominent members accused of supporting terrorism over what the government says are links to the banned PKK insurgent movement. The HDP denies supporting the PKK.