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Turkish govt expands probe targetting Istanbul city staff

ISTANBUL (AP) – A Turkish court accepted an indictment against suspects from a religious association on Thursday in a case that could have political and legal repercussions on the opposition-held Istanbul municipality.

The trial against 23 people involved with DIAYDER, which stands for Religious Scholars Mutual Aid and Solidarity Association, for purported links to outlawed Kurdish militants will begin on February 18. Nine of the defendants are in pre-trial detention and some are said to work for the Istanbul municipality.

The court’s decision follows an Interior Ministry probe announced last Sunday against hundreds of municipal staff for alleged terror links. Together, the cases have prompted worries that the government could be laying the groundwork for targetting popular mayor Ekrem Imamoglu (AP pic below), who is seen as a possible challenger to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in elections scheduled for 2023.

Secular opposition Republican People’s Party’s Imamoglu came to power in 2019 in re-run elections after Erdogan’s ruling party contested his win, dealing a massive blow to Erdogan in Turkey’s most important city. The opposition party has recently accused the government of mishandling the economy, calling for early elections.

The 335-page indictment, accepted on Thursday, said DIAYDER followed purported instruction by Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, for setting up an alternative religious structure to Turkey’s official religious authority in order to garner support from religious Kurds.

The indictment stated that people with links to the association were employed as imams and bathers for the deceased in preparation for funerals by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.

It also said some of the suspects were handing over municipal aid to families with PKK links.

Turkey’s Interior Ministry said last Sunday it launched a “special investigation” against 557 employees of the Istanbul municipality and linked companies. They are accused of links to terror groups, including the PKK, far-left groups and the network of cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the government blames for the failed 2016 coup attempt.

Minister Suleyman Soylu said they had identified people with extremist links among employees and argued the move was to combat extremism, including in public institutions. “It’s not political, it’s a security issue,” he said.

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