Turkey to arrest 82 including mayor over 2014 deadly pro-Kurdish protests

AFP , Friday 25 Sep 2020

The detained included six former lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), as well as current and former party executives

Co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) Mithat Sancar (C) holds a press conference at the party's headquarters in Ankara, on September 25, 2020.AFP

Turkish prosecutors on Friday issued arrest warrants for 82 people, including a mayor, suspected of involvement in 2014 pro-Kurdish protests that left 37 dead.

State news agency Anadolu said 19 people had already been detained on suspicion of involvement in the unrest, which spread to Turkey after Islamic State (IS) jihadists fought to capture the mainly Kurdish Syrian town of Kobane.

The detained included six former lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), as well as current and former party executives, Anadolu said.

The HDP is Turkey's second-largest opposition group in the parliament and has two co-leaders, Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar.

The party's mayor of the eastern city of Kars, Ayhan Bilgen, was also detained, Anadolu said. Bilgen won the city in 2019 local elections.

Of the 65 HDP mayors returned in those elections, 47 have now been replaced by unelected officials, with some detained on terror charges, the party said last month.

Police were on the hunt for the remaining suspects in the Turkish capital and six other provinces after the Ankara chief public prosecutor's office issued the warrants.

The prosecutor's office failed to specify what offences the 82 are alleged to have committed.

But it said crimes committed during the protests included murder, attempted murder, theft, damaging property, looting, burning the Turkish flag and injuring 326 security officials and 435 citizens.

"This operation is not just assault on the HDP, but on democratic politics and the determination to fight against fascism," the HDP's Sancar told reporters in Ankara.

'HDP not to blame'

The Turkish government accuses the HDP of being a political front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) -- which has waged an insurgency against the state since 1984 -- but the party denies this.

After the party first entered parliament in June 2015, the collapse of a ceasefire saw clashes resume between the PKK and Turkish security forces.

The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.

Former HDP co-leaders, Figen Yuksekdag and Selahattin Demirtas, were named in the investigation, but both have been in jail since 2016 pending multiple trials.

The government accuses the HDP of urging people to take part in the protests across Turkey, but the HDP blames Turkish police for the violence.

"The HDP is not responsible for the October 6-8 Kobane protests," Sancar said.

"Ob the contrary, it is the ruling power that is responsible in terms of their attitude to what happened in Kobane and attacks on those reacting to (IS) attacks."

There had been particular outrage over Ankara's failure to intervene to stop the militants from taking over the town.

IS jihadists were driven out of Kobane in January 2015 by US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Sancar accused the government of trying to "neutralise and if possible finish off" the HDP, but insisted "the people support us".

The party launched the hashtag on social media: #HDPSusturulamaz, (meaning "HDP cannot be silenced" in Turkish).

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