Turkey detains Kurdish leaders as deadly blast hits southeast
Authorities slap restrictions on social media
Turkish police yesterday detained almost a dozen MPs from the country’s main pro-Kurdish party, including its two co-leaders, as eight people were killed in a deadly car bombing blamed on Kurdish militants. Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) coleaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag appeared before judges in the city of Diyarbakir who were deciding whether to remand them in custody, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.
As the hearings got underway, a blast blamed on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) struck outside a police station nearby in the Baglar district of Diyarbakir, Turkey’s main majority-Kurdish city. Eight people were killed, including two police, and over 100 wounded, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced, saying the PKK had again showed its “ugly face”.
With tensions again escalating in Turkey nearly four months after July’s failed military coup, authorities slapped restrictions on social media including messaging services like WhatsApp. Yildirim confirmed the move, saying such measures were imposed from “time to time” as a precaution and would be lifted once the danger had passed. The turbulence also battered the Turkish lira, which fell to a new historic low against the dollar of 3.15 as investors took fright at looming instability.
‘Cannot stay silent’
The arrest of the HDP leaders, along with nine other MPs, is a major escalation of a crackdown on leading proKurdish politicians as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeks to destroy the PKK. The HDP said in a statement that the goal of the measures was to shut down the party, but it vowed not to surrender to these “dictatorial policies”. “This is a dark day not only for our party but for all of Turkey and the region as it means the end of democracy in Turkey,” it said.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Twitter she was “extremely worried” over the detentions and would call a meeting of EU ambassadors in Ankara. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier summoned Turkey’s envoy to the foreign ministry in Berlin, a ministry source said, adding Germany “could not remain silent.” Demirtas was detained at his home in Diyarbakir in the early hours while Yuksekdag was detained in Ankara. Yuksekdag was then brought to Diyarbakir where the investigation is centred.
The pair had been targeted by several separate probes over the last months but this is the first time that either has been detained. The security operations took place after midnight, with Demirtas tweeting at 0130 local time (2230 GMT) that police had arrived at his home and he was about to be detained. NTV television said the pair were accused of spreading propaganda for the PKK while Anadolu said Demirtas was accused of provoking violence in deadly protests in October 2014.
The suspects had also failed to respond to demands to give statements to prosecutors, Anadolu said. The others detained include prominent lawmaker Sirri Surreya Onder, who in the past has been a pointman for contacts with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. The head of the HDP’s faction in the Turkish parliament, Idris Baluken, was also held and has already been remanded in custody ahead of trial. The government said one of the MPs, Ziya Pir, had been released on bail but another, Imam Tascier, had been detained after eluding police in the night.
The raids come as Turkey remains under a state of emergency imposed in the wake of the failed coup, which critics say has gone well beyond targeting the actual coup plotters. Thirteen staff from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, including the editor-in-chief, were detained on Monday, further heightening strains in Turkish society. The two co-mayors of Diyarbakir were also detained last month.
Tensions have surged in the Kurdishdominated southeast since a fragile ceasefire declared by the PKK collapsed in 2015, leading to a resumption of deadly attacks on the security forces. The HDP, the third largest party in parliament, seeks to promote the cause of Turkey’s Kurdish minority and defend the rights of Kurds as well as those of women, gays and workers. The charisma in particular of Demirtas-dubbed the “Kurdish Obama” by some admirers after the US president-earned it success at the ballot box but also made him an arch rival of Erdogan.
“We call upon our friends... to stand in solidarity in our struggle to prevent Erdogan to steer the country into a civil war and further despotism,” the HDP said. Authorities accuse the party of being a PKK front and failing to distance itself from terror, claims it has always vehemently denied. —AFP
DIYARBAKIR: People run the streets near the explosion site after a strong blast in the southeastern Turkish city. —AFP