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Mayor of Ankara announces resignation after weeks of speculation

Melih Gokcek is the latest victim of a move led by President Erdogan to tighten loyalty within the ruling party
Mayor of Ankara Melih Gokcek poses during an interview with an AFP journalist (AFP)

The controversial mayor of Ankara has announced his resignation following weeks of speculation about his position.

Ibrahim Melih Gokcek announced on Twitter that he would leave the job of Ankara mayor on Saturday, after holding the position since 1994:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been calling for new blood to be injected into the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) and a number of locals mayors have resigned recently, most notably the mayor of Istanbul, Kadir Topbas.

Mayor of Bursa Recep Altepe also resigned on Monday.

Erdogan has been keen to revamp the AKP since the April constitutional referendum on the creation of a strengthened presidential system, which only passed by a very narrow margin - something which the President has partly blamed on "metal fatigue" among longstanding AKP officials.

He has the country's major urban centres, most of which voted against his project in the referendum, in his primary sights. 

The main criteria for those wishing to remain in their post appears to be loyalty to Erdogan.

Gokcek, who has previously been a member of numerous political parties in Turkey, was known for his aggressive social media style and promoting conspiracy theories.

Gokcek has on multiple occasions alleged US ships anchored off Turkey's coasts are responsible for generating the earthquakes that plight Turkey.

In 2015, he also lashed out at a US State Department spokeswoman, calling her a "dumb blonde".

"Deplorable, heinous… are the type of words that come to mind. Melih Gokcek is very cunning. He knows where his interests lie and is determined not to compromise in any way," Yusuf Kanli, a veteran Turkish journalist and long-time Ankara resident, told Middle East Eye.

"From what we hear, Gokcek is very good at manipulation. But he doesn't stand a chance in a showdown with Erdogan. I pity Gokcek, however deplorable he might be, because no elected person should be told to resign - unless it is by a court on corruption charges or something like that," said Kanli.

After last July's botched coup attempt, Gokcek was one of the first Turkish officials to suggest American involvement.

On 5 October, when local media said Gokcek had been summoned to the presidential place upon Erdogan's return for a meeting to be informed of his resignation, he hit back and said he had requested that meeting the previous day to discuss his projects. And also that he was one of the few able to get an audience at such short notice.

Erdogan's frustration reached a level that in response to a question about Gokcek being asked to resign on board his plane on 12 October he said: "Just like you mentioned the situation to speak about those things also arose. We discussed it.

"As I have said previously this is not about Mr Melih personally. This subject has to do with the desire for change in our party and in some places."

Gokcek's resignation provoked a jubilant reaction from his opponents.

The municipality of Cankaya, which is controlled by the Republican People's Party (CHP), had to warn residents not to celebrate Gokcek's victory with fireworks in case it harmed the animals.