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10/12/2016

Turkey detains Diyarbakır mayors on ‘terrorism’ links

Enlargement

Turkey detains Diyarbakır mayors on ‘terrorism’ links

People record with their smartphones as Selahattin Demirtas (2nd R), co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), talks during a gathering to protest against the arrest of the city's two joint mayors. 30 October 2016. [Reuters]

A Turkish court has ordered the detention of the two mayors of Diyarbakır, the largest city in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of the country, accusing them of “terrorist” activities linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Gültan Kisanak and Firat Anli, jointly elected in 2014, were Sunday accused of “belonging to an armed terrorist organisation” and providing “logistical support to an armed terrorist organisation”, according to a statement by the court in Diyarbakır.

Their detention comes five days after they were taken into police custody Tuesday evening, which sparked an outbreak of violence in the southeast.

Ayla Akat Ata, a former lawmaker from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which Kisanak and Anli belong to, was also detained Sunday night.

The moves come at a tense time, with multiple arrests and suspensions of local officials accused of links to the PKK and the closure of a dozen pro-Kurdish media ordered by official decree Saturday night.

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Three policemen were seriously wounded Sunday night in a bomb attack against the offices of the ruling AKP party in Mardin province, which neighbours Diyarbakır, according to the Dogan news agency, which attributed the attack to the PKK.

Several hundred people held demonstrations Sunday to demand the release of the mayors in Diyarbakır and in Istanbul, where police used tear gas to disperse the protesters, an AFP journalist said.

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Speaking to about 500 people gathered near the town hall in Diyarbakır on Sunday, Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), accused the authorities of holding the mayors “hostage”.

“All those who do not say ‘Erdoğan is our sultan’ are declared ‘terrorists’,” said Demirtas, calling on “democratic forces” to mobilise.

“We will not retreat, whatever the cost,” he added.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuses the HDP and BDP of being linked to the PKK, which is listed as a terror group by Ankara, the European Union and the United States.

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In September, 24 mayors in the southeast suspected of links to the PKK were suspended and replaced with officials close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) co-founded by Erdoğan, a move that triggered protests in several cities in the region.

In the same month, the government suspended 11,500 teachers suspected of links to the PKK.

Southeast Turkey has seen near daily attacks and clashes between the PKK and security forces since a fragile ceasefire collapsed in July last year.

More than 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK took up arms in 1984 with the aim of creating an independent Kurdish state.

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The group has since scaled back its demands to greater autonomy for the Kurdish minority, who make up a fifth of the population and form a majority in the southeast.

A soldier was killed on Sunday by members of the PKK, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.