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Turkey Frees Members of Medical Association Who Criticized Syrian Military Offensive


Turkey has freed eight top members of the country's main medical association, who were detained for denouncing Ankara's military offensive in northern Syria.

The Turkish Medical Association said Monday the eight members, including the head of the organization, were released under observation after giving statements to an Ankara prosecutor. It said three other members were released Friday.

Turkish prosecutors ordered the members detained last week after the group criticized Turkey's incursion into Syria to fight a Kurdish militia, saying "war is a man-made public health problem" and ending the statement, "No to war, peace immediately."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Turkish Medical Association of being "terrorist lovers." Turkish authorities have repeatedly warned people that criticizing the offensive would be seen as supporting terrorism and could lead to prosecution.

An Interior Ministry statement said Monday that 573 people have been detained for criticizing the operation. It said 449 people were detained for allegedly engaging in "terror propaganda" on social media, while another 124 were detained for participating in protests against the military incursion.

Turkey launched its offensive, called operation "Olive Branch" on January 20 against the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria's northwestern Afrin region. Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group and an extension of outlawed Kurdish militants in Turkey.

Most of Turkey's political parties have supported the incursion, with the exception of the pro-Kurdish opposition. The European Union has criticized the latest arrests.

Netherlands, Turkey

In another development Monday, the Netherlands announced it is withdrawing its ambassador from Turkey over a dispute that began in 2017. Dutch officials said they will also not accept a new Turkish ambassador in The Hague.

The dispute began when the Dutch barred Turkish ministers from campaigning among the Turkish diaspora in 2017.

Turkish officials said the latest development does not mean that diplomatic ties between the countries are severed and said talks to resolve the issue are ongoing.

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