Turkey on Friday jailed the two leaders of the country’s main pro-Kurdish party and several other MPs, in an unprecedented crackdown as a bombing killed nine in the Kurdish-dominated southeast.
A court in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir remanded in custody Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag after they were detained along with 10 of its MPs, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.
Including Demirtas and Yuksekdag, nine of the 12 HDP MPs were placed under arrest by the courts pending trial in hearings that lasted throughout the day.
The United States and European Union both raised alarm over the arrests, which marked a new escalation of the clampdown under the state of emergency imposed in the wake of the July 15 coup attempt.
Hours after Demirtas and Yuksekdag were detained, a blast blamed on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) struck outside a police station in Diyarbakir, Turkey’s main majority-Kurdish city.
Nine people were killed, including two police, and over 100 were wounded, Anadolu said. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the PKK had again showed its “ugly face” with the attack.
However, the Amaq news agency, which is linked to the Islamic State jihadist group, said that its fighters were behind the bombing, the SITE Intelligence Group said.
In an audio message released earlier this week, reclusive IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi broke a nearly year-old silence to call for attacks against Turkey.
With tensions again escalating nearly four months after July’s failed coup, authorities slapped restrictions on social media and messaging services like WhatsApp.
Users were also reporting severe problems accessing Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other sites, AFP correspondents and internet users said.
Yildirim confirmed the move, saying such measures were imposed from “time to time” as a precaution and would be lifted once the danger had passed.
‘We will win!’
The arrest of the HDP leaders marked a new stage in the crackdown on leading pro-Kurdish politicians as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wages a remorseless battle to destroy the PKK.
Demirtas has been charged with “membership of an armed group” -- a reference to the PKK -- while Yuksekdag is charged with making “terror propaganda” for the group, Anadolu said.
The HDP said in a statement that the goal of the measures was to shut down the party, but it vowed not to surrender to these “dictatorial policies”.
“It means the end of democracy in Turkey,” the party said.
In a handwritten statement read by his lawyers, Demirtas said he was the victim of a “civilian coup by the government and the palace”.
After his jailing he managed to shout, “We will definitely win!”. The phrase immediately became a top-trending hashtag in Turkish posts.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she was “extremely worried” over the detentions and would call a meeting of EU ambassadors in Ankara.
US Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski said that Washington was “deeply troubled” by the detentions and blocking of internet access.
As as well as Demirtas and Yuksekdag, seven others were also placed under arrest including the head of the HDP’s parliamentary faction Idris Baluken.
However three lawmakers were bailed.
Under heavy security, Demirtas and Yuksekdag were flown late evening from Diyarbakir to separate prisons in western Turkey, the Dogan news agency said.
‘Onslaught on dissent’
The arrests came as Turkey remains under a state of emergency imposed in the wake of the failed coup, which critics say has gone well beyond targeting the coup plotters.
Thirteen staff from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, including the editor-in-chief, were detained on Monday. The two co-mayors of Diyarbakir were also detained last month.
Amnesty International said that the arrests of the MPs “marks the latest escalation in the onslaught on dissent amid Turkey’s state of emergency”.
Tensions have surged in the Kurdish-dominated southeast since a fragile ceasefire declared by the PKK collapsed in 2015, leading to a resumption of deadly attacks on the security forces.
The HDP, the third largest party in parliament, seeks to defend the rights of Kurds as well as those of women, gays and workers.
The charisma in particular of Demirtas -- dubbed the “Kurdish Obama” by some admirers after the US president -- earned the party success at the ballot box but also made him an arch rival of Erdogan.
Authorities accuse the party of being a PKK front and failing to distance itself from terror, claims it has always vehemently denied.