Turkish police have arrested about 100 people in a new nationwide operation targeting union leaders and activists because of alleged links to Kurdish rebels. The operation was part of a wider legal offensive against the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), a union regarded by the authorities in Ankara as the political wing of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
In early morning raids across Turkey, police arrested more than 100 people as part of an ongoing anti-terror probe against the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK. Kurdish political activists were among those detained, as were trade unionists and a Kurdish film maker.
The headquarters of three of the countries main civil service trade unions were also searched.
The crackdown was strongly criticized by pro-Kurdish member of parliament, Ertugral Kurkcu, of the BDP party. He says the arrests have nothing to do with fighting terrorism, but are instead aimed at stifling democratic opposition to the government.
"There are no weapons on the table, there are no incidents of violence which those people are involved in. So this is an arbitrary raid against the Kurdish popular movement," Kurkcu said.
Kurkcu claims the motivation behind the arrests is to stop planned protests against the government on March 8th, International Women's day. Many of those detained in the raids were women. But the police say many of those arrested allegedly threw molotov cocktails or participated in illegal demonstrations.
The latest arrests are part of an investigation into the Kurdish Communities Union. Prosecutors say the union is the urban wing of the PKK, which is fighting the Turkish state for greater rights.
Since the start of the probe in 2009, local human rights groups claim more than 6,000 people have been detained, including elected Kurdish officials, journalists and academics. Many have been held in jail for years and are still awaiting trial, which has added to growing national and international criticism.
But concern about the probe has extended to the government. Last Friday, police searched the homes of two retired senior members of Turkey's intelligence service, MIT. The head of MIT, Hakan Fidan, was also called to be interviewed, a request he refused.
A prosecutor claimed MIT informants in the KCK were involved in terrorist acts. A senior prosecutor in the probe was subsequently removed from the inquiry.
Observers say the controversy has added to growing concerns the KCK investigation is out of control. The Council of Europe commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammerberg, in a report last month on Turkey's judiciary, strongly criticized the probe.
"The KCK cases have gone up, I am sure that quite a number of them should not be in prison at all," Hammerberg said.
The government has strongly defended the KCK probe and the independence of the judiciary. But observers warn with detentions rising, and little indication of any end to the probe, criticism of the investigation can only grow.