Turkish Interior Ministry has removed an opposition mayor in one of Istanbul’s affluent districts in a move that sent a chilling echo across the political spectrum.
Battal Ilgezdi, mayor of Istanbul’s Atasehir district, has been dismissed by Interior Ministry. The takeover of the municipality is a first of its kind for a non-Kurdish political party.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu reacted with full of rage and portrayed the removal as a political crackdown to distract the public attention from corruption claims that ensnared President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.
The weekslong political tug of war after CHP leader unveiled hundreds of pages of documents implicating President Erdogan’s family members and senior members of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in money laundering, setting up offshore companies to evade taxation in Turkey culminated in a government action to target CHP-led municipalities.
President Erdogan first hinted a potential takeover of CHP municipalities early in November, only provoking rebuke from the opposition leader. Turkish authorities already replaced hundreds of mayors in southeastern Turkey with government-appointed trustees in a crackdown on pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP).
Mr. Ilgezdi became the first mayor from CHP to be fired by the Interior Ministry.
The ministry is also preparing to send inspectors to carry out inspections at six other CHP-run municipalities, the Turkish media reported.
The dismissal is seen as a bellwether for future actions to paralyze the main opposition party after a standoff last week over findings of Erdogan family’s overseas assets and offshore companies.
The embattled president has found himself on the defense for the first time after a long time as he scrambled to contain fallout from bank documents about money transactions of his family members.
For two weeks, the revelations by Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab who implicated Mr. Erdogan in a sanctions-evasion scheme to breach U.S. sanctions against Iran, and CHP’s publication of documents dominated political debate.
Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s office launched a probe into CHP chairman over “insulting the president” after Mr. Erdogan’s lawyer submitted a complaint to the prosecutor’s office.
On Saturday, CHP leader Kilicdaroglu was unreserved in his sharp criticism of the government.
“Those who lie before Zarrab attempt to make our mayors accountable,” he said at a rally in Istanbul, questioning the integrity of investigations against CHP municipalities. He said both financial lawsuits and administrative investigations are aiming to intimidate CHP into silence and retreat.
He vowed to bring the political fight over corruption to a new level.
“Those who brought Zarrab into TV screens with Turkish flags, I’ll make you embarrassed for that. You will be embarrassed,” he said, referring to rewarding the gold trader in 2014 after he was released. He also referred to a TV interview in which Mr. Zarrab defended the government and himself in 2014 in a studio decorated with Turkish flags.
The Zarrab case has proved to be a politically divisive issue for the Turkish society. In late 2013 when the corruption probe first swept into the public spotlight, opposition parties demanded a full-scale investigation to hold the businessman accountable for bribing ministers and putting Turkey on edge through violating international sanctions against Iran.
That story came to a macabre end after the government blighted the probe through the purge of prosecutors and police chiefs. But the legal drama currently playing out in a Manhattan court is still unfolding, with potential ramifications for Turkey’s political landscape and its struggling economy.