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Car bomb kills nine after Turkish authorities arrest pro-Kurdish legislators

Published 04/11/2016

Selahattin Demirtas, left, and Figen Yuksekdag celebrate their party's election success last year (AP)
Selahattin Demirtas, left, and Figen Yuksekdag celebrate their party's election success last year (AP)

A car bombing has killed nine people in Turkey's mainly Kurdish south east, hours after authorities detained at least 12 pro-Kurdish legislators for questioning in terror-related probes.

Prime minister Binali Yildirim said two police officers, a technician and five civilians were among those killed in the attack in Diyarbakir, near a building used by riot police. Up to 100 people were hurt in the blast.

Mr Yildirim said one of the assailants was "caught dead" but did not provide details.

The Diyarbakir governor's office said the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, had claimed the attack, which the state-run Anadolu Agency said was carried out with a minibus laden with a ton of explosives.

The blast caused a large crater near the police building and damaged several buildings and businesses nearby. Television footage showed people walking among glass and other debris near buildings with windows blown out.

Authorities imposed a temporary news blackout after the explosion, barring reports that could lead to public "fear, panic or chaos" and images showing the explosion and its aftermath.

Turkey has been plagued by a series of deadly bomb attacks in the past 18 months, carried out by Kurdish militants or Islamic State extremists.

The PKK has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state and is considered a terror organisation by Turkey and its allies. A fragile ceasefire collapsed last year and at least 700 state security personnel and thousands of Kurdish militants have been killed since then, according to Anadolu.

Hours before the bombing, police detained 11 legislators from the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, or HDP, including the party's two co-chairmen, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag.

A 12th legislator was detained later during the day.

Anadolu said Mr Demirtas and Ms Yuksekdag were put under formal arrest by court order and will be held in custody pending trial. Three others- Nursel Aydogan, Leyla Birlik and Idris Baluken- were formally arrested earlier.

Three of the 12 detainees - Sirri Sureyya Onder, Imam Tascier and Ziya Pir - were released by the court on condition they regularly report to authorities.

The detentions occurred in the middle of the night, with Mr Demirtas describing on Twitter how he was taken into custody: "Police officials are at the door to my house in Diyarbakir with a detention warrant."

Anadolu said Ms Yuksekdag was detained in her home in Ankara.

An Interior Ministry statement said a total of 15 detention warrants were issued by the chief public prosecutors in Diyarbakir and the provinces of Sirnak, Hakkari, Van and Bingol. Two of the legislators were determined to be abroad, and authorities are still searching for one.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, expressed concern over the pro-Kurdish politicians' detentions on Twitter. She said the EU is in contact with authorities and she has called a meeting of EU ambassadors in Ankara.

Main opposition Republican People's Party chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu denounced the detentions: "If you defend democracy, then you defend that those who came with elections should go with elections. Otherwise you'll butcher democracy in Turkey."

Mr Yildirim responded: "If those who are elected but go hand in hand with terrorism, they of course need to be made to account."

Turkish police later clashed with demonstrators who took to the streets in four cities in protest at the detentions.

Riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of people demonstrating in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Antalya. Anadolu said 10 people were detained in Ankara, five in Antalya and seven in Istanbul.

Anadolu said the legislators were detained for not appearing in court to testify in terrorism-related investigations.

The government accuses the HDP of being the political arm of the PKK, an accusation the party rejects.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior government officials have repeatedly called for the prosecution of pro-Kurdish legislators on terrorism-related charges, which was made possible after legal immunities protecting them from prosecution were lifted in May.

Hundreds of charges were filed against HDP legislators following the lifting of immunity, including "disseminating terrorist propaganda" and "membership in an armed terrorist organisation".

Mr Demirtas reportedly reacted to the lifting of immunity by saying none of his fellow party members would voluntarily appear in court to testify. "If they want our testimony they'll have to force us there," he said, according to Anadolu.

Earlier this week Gultan Kisanak, the HDP mayor of the largest predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, along with co-mayor Firat Anli, was arrested over alleged membership of the PKK.

In September, the government ousted 28 mayors and other administrators, mostly from the HDP, and appointed trustees in their place.

AP

Press Association

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