Car Bomb Rocks Southeast Turkey After Pro-Kurdish Lawmakers Detained

A damaged vehicle is seen after a blast in the Kurdish-dominated southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, Nov 4 – A car bomb rocked southeastern Turkey’s largest city on Friday, killing at least one person and injuring more than 40, security sources said, hours after police detained the leaders of the mostly Kurdish region’s biggest political party.

The blast struck near the police station in Diyarbakir where some of the party leaders were being held in a terrorism probe. It tore off the facades of buildings and firefighters were searching debris for people trapped there. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said police and civilians were killed.

The detention of the leaders of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), parliament’s second-biggest opposition grouping, and ten other of its lawmakers will heighten concern among Western allies about a deepening crackdown on dissent under President Tayyip Erdogan.

The move, which drew immediate condemnation from the European Union, comes as Turkey has detained or suspended more than 110,000 officials in the wake of a failed July coup, mulls the reintroduction of the death penalty, and days after journalists from a leading opposition newspaper were detained.

“Very bad news from Turkey. Again. Now HDP members of parliament are being detained,” the European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur, Kati Piri, said on Twitter of a country that is seeking membership of the EU.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Twitter she was “extremely worried” by the arrests and had called a meeting of EU ambassadors in Ankara.

Southeastern Turkey has been rocked by political turmoil and violence for more than a year after the collapse of a ceasefire with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which has waged a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy.

The lira currency hit a new record low against the dollar after the arrests, trading at 3.1319 at 0640 GMT. Access to social media, including Twitter, Whatsapp, YouTube and Facebook, was blocked, an internet monitoring group said, and a reporting ban was imposed on coverage of the blast.

Erdogan and the ruling AK Party accuse the HDP of links to the PKK, which is deemed a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union. The HDP, which won more than 5 million votes at the last general election, denies direct links.

The government introduced a nationwide state of emergency after a failed military coup on July 15 which gave it broad powers to round up suspects linked to the putsch. More than 110,000 civil servants, soldiers, police, judges, journalists and other officials have been suspended or detained.

The authorities have also used the emergency powers to round up pro-Kurdish opposition politicians, including Diyarbakir’s joint mayors, who were detained late last month, and has closed all major Kurdish media outlets.

In comments cited by state-run Anadolu Agency, Bozdag said Friday’s detentions were within the law and rejected criticism of the move.

“The lawmakers who are detained … disregarded the law,” he said. “They were sent an invitation but they don’t come. What other solution is there? It is to bring them forcibly.”

The interior ministry said Friday’s detention orders were for 13 members of parliament, but two were abroad and were therefore not immediately detained.

“JUDICIAL THEATRE”

Police raided the Ankara house of Figen Yuksekdag, HDP co-chairwoman, and Selahattin Demirtas, the other party leader, in Diyarbakir, after they refused to give testimony for crimes linked to “terrorist propaganda”.

“The HDP calls on the international community to react against the Erdogan regime’s coup,” the party said on Twitter.

A court official said the prosecutor was seeking Demirtas’ formal arrest and that both he and Yuksekdag were in court after police questioning.

“I will not hesitate to be held accountable in front of a fair and impartial judiciary. There is nothing I cannot answer for,” Demirtas said in a statement to the prosecutor, which was shared by HDP lawmaker Besime Konca.

“But I refuse to be an actor in this judicial theatre just because it was ordered by Erdogan, whose own political past is suspicious,” he said.

Police also raided and searched the party’s head office in central Ankara. Police cars and armed vehicles had closed the entrances to the street of the HDP headquarters.

A group of protesters chanting slogans tried to reach the party offices, but were stopped by police before they could enter the street, a Reuters witness said.

Internet monitoring group Turkey Blocks said access to social media sites had been blocked. A U.S. internet company official, who declined to be identified, confirmed some sites were being “throttled”, a method of slowing them to the point where they are unusable.

The HDP is the third-largest party in the 550-seat Turkish parliament, with 59 seats, and won more than 5 million votes in the November 2015 general election.

Parliamentarians in Turkey normally enjoy immunity from prosecution, but the immunity of many lawmakers, including HDP deputies, was lifted earlier this year.

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