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Turkish police clashed with protesters in Diyarbakir on Wednesday, using tear gas and water cannon to prevent them demonstrating against the detention of the Kurdish-majority city’s co-mayors.
Gultan Kisanak and Firat Anli were taken into custody on Tuesday night in a surprise move against the leaders of a city hit by renewed fighting between Turkish forces and members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The two were detained as part of a “terrorism” probe, security officials said. The Diyarbakir prosecutor said in a statement that Kisanak and Anli were accused of having links to the PKK and “inciting violence”.
Hundreds of protesters tried to march to the town hall in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey. Some threw rocks at police, an AFP correspondent said.
At least 25 protesters were now in custody, security sources told AFP.
Internet access in Diyarbakir has been out of action since the morning, according to the correspondent.
Dogan news agency reported that from 10:30am (0730 GMT), other southeastern and eastern cities like Batman, Van, Elazig, Gaziantep and Kilis also could not access the internet.
‘No to intimidation’
Officers responded using batons, teargas and water cannon to repel the protesters, the correspondent said.
“The pressure will not intimidate us,” demonstrators chanted.
The Diyarbakir governor’s office warned that any demonstrations on Wednesday were “unlawful” and would not be allowed, saying that since August 15, public gatherings and meetings were banned in the city.
Rallies were planned elsewhere in Turkey, including Istanbul — in the city’s popular Istiklal Avenue.
A group of around 50 people tried to hold a sit-in on the avenue as they carried a large banner saying: “Municipalities belong to the people — people cannot be taken over,” an AFP photographer said.
But police refused to allow the protest and threatened to intervene, the photographer said, adding the group chanted: “We are shoulder-to-shoulder against fascism”, and “If you are quiet, you will be next”.
The prosecutor said Kisanak was accused of being a member of the PKK, while both individuals had made speeches in support of the rebel group, they alleged.
They are also alleged to have allowed the use of municipal vehicles for the “funerals of terrorist members”, the prosecutor added, referring to the PKK.
The prosecutor denied the co-mayors access to lawyers for five days, Dogan news agency reported, which is permitted under the state of emergency imposed after the July 15 failed coup.
The pro-Kurdish leftist People’s Democratic Party (HDP) described the move against the mayors as “extremely unlawful and arbitrary”.
In a statement, the HDP called on the international community not to remain silent in the face of “groundless and fabricated accusations”.
‘Arms must be laid down’
A spokesman for Council of Europe chief Thorbjorn Jagland said the detentions were a “matter of particular concern” and would be asking Turkey, a member of the rights watchdog, for the “necessary explanations”.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn described their detention as “worrying” in a statement on Wednesday.
More than 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK first launched an insurgency in the southeast in 1984.
A two-and-a-half-year ceasefire collapsed last July which led to almost daily attacks by the PKK against security forces while Ankara launched military operations in the southeast to rid urban areas of fighters.
Last month, 24 mayors suspected of links to the PKK were suspended and replaced with officials close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) co-founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.