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Protests Flare in Turkey After Kurdish Co-mayors Arrested on Terror Charges


Police use water cannons against pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party members as they protest the detention of Co-mayors Gultan Kisanak and Firat Anli, in Diyarbakir, Turkey, Oct. 26, 2016.

Police use water cannons against pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party members as they protest the detention of Co-mayors Gultan Kisanak and Firat Anli, in Diyarbakir, Turkey, Oct. 26, 2016.

Hundreds of Turkey's Kurds staged nationwide protests after Turkish authorities detained the co-mayors of the predominantly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir in an alleged terror probe.

Gultan Kisanak, a former member of parliament before her election in Diyarbakır, and Firat Anli, her co-mayor and a member of the municipal council, were arrested Tuesday evening as part of an investigation into their alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

Protests erupted after two pro-Kurdish parties, the Peoples' Democratic Party and the Democratic Regions Party, called on their supporters to take to the streets.

In Istanbul and Diyarbakir, police on Wednesday dispersed angry crowds with tear gas and water cannons. At least 26 protesters were arrested in Diyarbakir, according to Hatice Kamer, VOA's Kurdish service reporter in the city.

Party leaders read a statement to protesters in Diyarbakir, a city of 1.7 million, saying the "detention of elected mayors was a blow to people's will."

WATCH: Detention of Kurdish Co-mayors in Turkey Ignites Protests

Accusations

The prosecutor's office said in a written statement that the co-mayors were accused of making speeches in support of the PKK, allowing militants to use municipal resources, inciting violent protests, and attending illegal meetings and rallies.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the removal of elected officials accused of links to the PKK, designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, is an integral part of the battle against Kurdish militants.

Kisanak, 55, is a well-known Kurdish political figure. Diyarbakır's first female mayor, she has been in office since 2014. The former journalist was previously imprisoned after a military coup in 1980.

Kisanak was detained at the Diyarbakir airport Tuesday after returning from giving a speech to a parliamentary commission looking into Turkey's failed military coup in July.

Anli, a community activist, was arrested at his residence.

Thousands have been detained in Turkey under a presidential state of emergency following the failed coup. New administrators in two dozen Kurdish-run municipalities were appointed by the government after their mayors were detained in September.

Police officers detain a pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party member as they protest the detention of Co-mayors Gultan Kisanak and Firat Anli, in Diyarbakir, Turkey, Oct. 26, 2016.

Police officers detain a pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party member as they protest the detention of Co-mayors Gultan Kisanak and Firat Anli, in Diyarbakir, Turkey, Oct. 26, 2016.

No contact with attorney

VOA's Kamer said authorities did not allow the co-mayors to see their attorney, Mehmet Emin Aktar, who told VOA that he had not seen a document outlining the charges against his clients.

"This is a political operation," Aktar said. "According to state-of-emergency rules, I will only be able to see them in five days. And they might stay detained up to a month without being brought to court."

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in joint statement that the detentions were "very concerning."

A pro-democracy group in Turkey, headed by Riza Turmen, a retired Turkish bureaucrat and a former judge of the European Court of Human Rights, also condemned the detentions, calling them "an attack to the foundation of parliamentarian democracy."

The Washington representative of the Peoples' Democratic Party, Mehmet Yuksel, told VOA that the arrest of the co-mayors would further deepen the conflict in the region.

"The state authorities have no valid reason to detain the co-mayors," he said. "Diyarbakir and Gultan Kisanak possess a deep, symbolic importance for the Kurds. It seems that they are telling Kurds that there is no place for Kurds in politics."

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