Controversial mayor investigated for targeting Arabs in billboard message

Turkish prosecutors have launched an investigation into a controversial mayor from the country’s main opposition party due to his remarks targeting Arabs on billboards in his city of Bolu in northwestern Turkey, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Artı Gerçek news website.

Bolu Mayor Tanju Özcan, from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said in a message that he congratulates football clubs Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray which refused to play the Turkish Super Cup game in Riyadh last week over a dispute involving Atatürk imagery.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is the founder of modern Turkey and is widely respected in the country.

The teams declined to play and returned to Turkey after rejecting Saudi officials’ refusal to allow them to wear shirts with Atatürk’s picture and carry banners with his sayings during the match. The game was scheduled to honor the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic.

In his message, featured on several billboards in Bolu, Özcan said on behalf of the people of Bolu that he congratulates Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray for reminding the “desert mice Bedouin [Arabs]” of the “greatness” of Atatürk.

“A Turkey without Atatürk is impossible,” he said.

Özcan’s message on the billboards was removed at the order of the Bolu Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, which also initiated an investigation into the mayor.

The mayor said on X that he has no regrets about his words and thinks nobody can dare to disrespect Atatürk while calling the launch of an investigation into him “an abdication of reason.”

Özcan frequently sparks criticism from human rights groups due to his targeting of refugees living in the city such as imposing exorbitant fees for municipal services.

He was expelled from the CHP in July amid his calls for a change in leadership to replace the party’s former chairman, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

Following the election of Özgür Özel as the party’s leader in early November, the CHP’s party council decided to allow Özcan to return to the party.

According to a recent announcement from the party, Özcan will run again in Bolu as the CHP’s mayoral candidate in local elections slated for March 31.

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