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Turkey detains opposition mayor over affiliation to 2016 botched putsch

This undated file picture shows Ibrahim Burak Oguz, the arrested mayor of Turkey’s Aegean coastal town of Urla. (Photo by the Turkish daily newspaper Sozcu)

Turkey has arrested a mayor from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) over his alleged membership of a movement led by US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the Ankara government accuses of having masterminded the failed July 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The official Anadolu news agency reported that Ibrahim Burak Oguz, the mayor of the Aegean coastal town of Urla, was detained late on Monday for alleged ties to the network, which is referred to by Turkish law enforcement as the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization (FETO).

The CHP condemned Oguz’s arrest and denied the accusation of links to Gulen, saying the network had no “chance of surviving within the social-democratic political party.”

“We condemn the use of the justice (system) to remove those who were elected,” CHP provincial head, Deniz Yucel, said.

The 47-year-old Oguz, who was elected in local elections in March, is the first mayor from Turkey’s main opposition party to be arrested on terror charges.

At least 14 elected mayors belonging to Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party have previously been detained for alleged ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militant group, which has been waging an insurgency for autonomy in Turkey’s largely-Kurdish southeast since 1984 and is deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey. 

Separately, Turkish authorities detained 171 people on suspicion of links to Gulen’s network in simultaneous raids in the capital Ankara.

Those detained are suspected of using encrypted messaging application ByLock, which the Turkish government claims to be the top communication tool among members of the Gulen movement.

During the 2016 botched putsch, a faction of the Turkish military declared that it had seized control of the country and the government of Erdogan was no more in charge. The attempt was, however, suppressed a few hours later.

Ankara has since accused US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen of having orchestrated the coup. The opposition figure is also accused of being behind a long-running campaign to topple the government via infiltrating the country’s institutions, particularly the army, police and the judiciary. 

Gulen has denounced the “despicable putsch” and reiterated that he had no role in it.

“Accusations against me related to the coup attempt are baseless and politically-motivated slanders,” he said in a statement.

The 78-year-old cleric has also called on Ankara to end its “witch hunt” of his followers, a move he says is aimed at “weeding out anyone it deems disloyal to President Erdogan and his regime.”

Turkish officials have frequently called on their US counterparts to extradite Gulen, but their demands have not been taken heed of.

Turkey ended the nationwide state of emergency, imposed since the coup, in July last year, after seven three-month renewals. 

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested in Turkey on suspicion of having links to Gulen and the failed coup. Many more, including military staff, civil servants and journalists, have been sacked or suspended from work over the same accusations.

The international community and rights groups have been highly critical of the Turkish president over the massive dismissals and the crackdown.

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