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Turkish Police Disrupt Protest Over Journalists' Arrests

  • VOA News

A civilian, left, and a security officer beat a protester as riot police use water cannons to disperse people protesting the detentions of 12 lawmakers from pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, or HDP, in Istanbul, Nov. 5, 2016.

A civilian, left, and a security officer beat a protester as riot police use water cannons to disperse people protesting the detentions of 12 lawmakers from pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, or HDP, in Istanbul, Nov. 5, 2016.

Turkish police used water cannon and tear gas on hundreds of protesters Saturday in Istanbul to disrupt a march in support of an opposition newspaper whose staff had earlier been arrested as part of a government crackdown.

The protest erupted hours after Turkish authorities ordered nine executives and journalists from the opposition secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper held for trial.

Prosecutors linked the arrests to the newspaper's alleged support for a fugitive cleric suspected of orchestrating a failed coup attempt in July, and for its alleged links to Kurdish militants battling the Ankara government for an autonomous homeland in Turkey's southeast.

Cumhuriyet is one of few opposition newspapers in Turkey still critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who launched a massive crackdown leading to the arrests of more than 100,000 people — including teachers, journalists, police and judges — since the July 15 coup attempt.

The crackdown has sparked widespread human rights concerns among Turkey's Western allies — concerns that mounted Friday when Turkish police detained a dozen lawmakers of the pro-Kurdish HDP (the Peoples' Democratic Party), the country's third-largest political party.

Among those arrested were HDP co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag. The HDP lawmakers were taken into custody after failing to respond to summonses by prosecutors asking them to testify in a terrorism propaganda case, according to a statement issued by a government office.

Hours after that roundup, a car bomb killed nine people and wounded more than 100 others near a police station in the southeastern Turkish city Diyarbakir, where some of the lawmakers were being held.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Kurdish militants were responsible for the bombing, and that one suspected member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) was killed in the blast. However, later Friday, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Turkey has been under emergency rule since the failed July coup. There has been a widening crackdown on dissent by Erdogan, who blames the attempted overthrow of his government on Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who lives in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.

The government in Ankara has repeatedly called for the United States to extradite Gulen and warns that failure to do so will cause great harm to relations between the two countries.

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