DIYARBAKIR - Suspected Kurdish militants detonated a car bomb near local government offices in Turkey’s southeastern city of Van on Monday, wounding scores of people, a day after two dozen mayors from Kurdish-run municipalities were stripped of office.

The blast hit some 200 metres from the Van provincial governor’s office, security sources said, ripping through the city’s central district and setting buildings and cars aflame. Officials said 48 people were wounded but no one died. Iranian nationals may have been among the wounded, CNN Turk said. Van sits about 100 km east of the border with Iran.

Southeastern Turkey has suffered repeated bombings and other attacks since the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which has waged a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy in the region, abandoned a ceasefire in 2015.

Security sources said they suspected the PKK was behind the bombing in Van and that an operation had been launched to pursue the suspected militants. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The blast tore the front off a four-storey building. Footage from the Dogan news agency showed water cannon trying to douse flames on the street opposite. The district, normally busy, was more empty of traffic on Monday, the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Burhan Kayaturk, a local member of parliament from the AKP, said the blast had targeted the ruling AK Party’s offices, but that they were well-secured and had not been badly damaged.

Turkey appointed new administrators in 24 Kurdish-run municipalities mostly in the southeast on Sunday after removing their mayors over suspected PKK links, triggering protests. Four towns in Van province were affected by the removals.

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Turkey had evidence that the mayors had sent support to Kurdish militants, and that they should have been stripped of their roles sooner.

“It is a step taken too late in my opinion,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul after attending Eid prayers.

“They sent the support they received to the mountains, but this has all been discovered,” Erdogan said, referring to Kurdish militant bases in the mountains of southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. “Our government took this decision based on all of this evidence.”

The municipalities were run by local associates of the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the third-largest party in parliament. The HDP decried what it said was an “administrative coup” and said the move was illegal.

Erdogan said last week that the campaign against the PKK - considered a terrorist organisation by the United States and European Union - was now Turkey’s largest ever and the removal of civil servants linked to them was a key part of the fight.

The US embassy said on Sunday that while it supported Turkey’s right to combat terrorism, it hoped the appointment of government administrators would be temporary and that local citizens could soon choose new representatives.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday defended the suspension of 28 mayors over alleged links to Kurdish militants or US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, saying it was a long-overdue move.

“To me, it is a step that came late. It should have been taken long before,” Erdogan told reporters after prayers at an Istanbul mosque on the first day of the Muslim feast of Eid Al-Adha.

“You, as mayors and municipal councils, cannot stand up and support terrorist organisations. You do not have such an authority,” he said.

Twenty-four of the outgoing mayors are accused of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which is waging a deadly insurgency in the southeast, and four of them to Gulen, whom the authorities blame for the attempted July 15 coup.

The latest step was taken under the state of emergency imposed in the wake of the coup, with the ousted mayors, who were elected in the 2014 local elections, replaced by state-appointed trustees.

Erdogan accused the ousted mayors of “sending state funds to the mountain,” referring to the areas where the PKK is holed up.

“They are carrying TNT (explosives)... they constitute a constant threat in the region,” he said.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also said some municipalities had turned into a “logistical centre for the separatist terrorist organisation.”

The municipalities affected by the decision are mainly in the Kurdish-dominated southeast including Sur in the Diyarbakir region which has been ravaged by violence between the PKK and security forces.

Critics have accused the government of using the state of emergency to implement a vast crackdown, but Ankara has defended the measures as crucial at a time when Turkey is battling alleged coup plotters and the PKK insurgency.

In a statement, the US embassy in Ankara expressed concerns over the resulting clashes in the southeast between protesters and police after the mayors were suspended.

“As Turkish authorities investigate allegations that some local officials have participated in or provided material support to terrorist groups, we note the importance of respect for judicial due process and individual rights, including the right of peaceful political expression, as enshrined in the Turkish Constitution,” it said.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who took over from his predecessor Efkan Ala earlier this month, said the US embassy’s reaction was “unacceptable”.

He said the mayors had been removed from their posts in line with the law, and denounced the American statement as “interference in Turkey’s domestic affairs.”

“We are fighting with our allies against any form of terrorism but such statements that are far from this responsibility would only encourage terror,” he said.