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Turkey targets pro-Kurdish officials while detaining more than 200 people

Yasin Akgul, AFP | People hold a giant Turkish national flag during a demonstration on December 11, 2016, a day after twin bombings near the home stadium of Besiktas football club.

Turkish police have detained more than 200 people in raids across the country targeting officials from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) over allegations of links to Kurdish PKK militants, the state-run Anadolu agency said Monday.

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The operations were launched after an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on Sunday claimed responsibility for twin bombings that killed 44 people and wounded 155 outside an Istanbul soccer stadium.

Hours after the claim, Turkish warplanes struck PKK targets in northern Iraq, destroying a headquarters of the militants and surrounding gun positions and shelters, an army statement said.

On Monday the interior ministry issued a statement saying 235 people were detained in 11 cities. The majority of those arrested, according to local media reports, were pro-Kurdish officials belonging to the HDP, which was elected to the Turkish Parliament in 2014. Among them were two provincial leaders and an Ankara representative.

The ministry did not specify whether those rounded up were suspected of direct involvement in the attacks.

Health Minister Recep Akdag said that the dead included 36 police officers and eight civilians. Funeral ceremonies were held in Istanbul, with top officials in attendance.

The attack, which came after a Turkish Super League match, caused deep shock in the soccer-loving nation and triggered patriotic demonstrations denouncing terrorism.

Taxi drivers drove around the recently inaugurated Besiktas stadium, named after the team and neighborhood, waving Turkish flags.

Scores of demonstrators marched near Istanbul's main police station to denounce the twin bombings in a rally organized by a union.
 

Showing solidarity with victims of Turkey's twin bombings

 

"Damn the PKK" and "We don't want the PKK in parliament" chanted the crowd, calling for the reintroduction of the death penalty.

Demonstrator Gulay Firat said she wants justice for the attacks' widows, widowers and orphans.

"No one can tear this country apart," Firat told The Associated Press.

Further demonstrations were planned on Monday and the US consulate urged its citizens to avoid large gatherings.

Renewed Kurdish tensions

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish authorities accuse the Peoples' Democratic Party of supporting terrorism and having ties to PKK, which Ankara and its allies categorize as a terrorist organization.

The HDP party   which was democratically elected into parliament in 2014 and also appeals to left-leaning, secular Turks as well as minorities   denies the accusation. Its two leaders are in jail on terrorism-related charges.

Turkey is facing renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels in the southeast and has suffered a string of suicide bombings this year.

The Kurdish faction that claimed responsibility for the Saturday bombings, the Freedom Falcons Movement, or TAK, is a shadowy group widely considered to be an offshoot of the PKK. It has also claimed two suicide bombing attacks in Ankara this year.

The group says its actions are revenge for state violence in the southeast and for the detention of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader and ideologue.

Collapsed peace talks

The decades-long conflict between PKK and the Turkish state has killed tens of thousands. Violence resumed after the collapse of peace talks in 2015.

Turkey is a member of NATO and partner in the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group, which has been blamed for multiple attacks in Turkey.

A state of emergency was decreed after a failed July 15 coup attempt that the authorities blame on a US-based Islamist cleric.

That measure and the sweeping purges of state institutions that followed have alarmed Western governments, human rights groups and legal experts.

Turkey's campaign against armed Kurdish militants in the southeast has also drawn criticism over the disproportionate use of force and the displacement of thousands of individuals.

Asked in Berlin what she thought of the arrests, German Chancellor Angela Merkel avoided direct criticism, but stressed that all measures to "clear up a dramatic, terrible attack must be within the framework of the rule of law, within the framework of proportionality."

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)

 

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