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Turkey issues 82 arrest warrants over deadly protests

The Ankara chief public prosecutor's office said 20 people had already been detained in connection with the unrest, which spread to Turkey after Islamic State jihadists fought to capture the mainly Kurdish northern Syrian border town of Kobane.

FILE: The dusty Syrian town of Ain al-Arab (Kobane) on the frontier with Turkey has become a key battleground between IS jihadists and local Kurdish fighters as well as the US and its allies. Picture: AFP

ANKARA - Turkish prosecutors on Friday issued arrest warrants for 82 people, including a mayor and several former lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish HDP party, who are accused of involvement in 2014 protests that left 37 dead.

The Ankara chief public prosecutor's office said 20 people had already been detained in connection with the unrest, which spread to Turkey after Islamic State jihadists fought to capture the mainly Kurdish northern Syrian border town of Kobane.

The detained included six former lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), as well as current and former party executives.

Ankara suspects the HDP of being a political front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the state since 1984.

The party denies this and accuses the government of persecution.

The government says the HDP urged people to join the 2014 protests, which saw Kurds take to the streets in anger over Turkey's decision not to intervene and stop IS militants from attacking Kobane.

The HDP blames Turkish police for provoking the violence, which spread from southeastern border regions near Syria to Ankara.

"This operation is not just an assault on the HDP, but on democratic politics and the determination to fight against fascism," one of the co-leaders of the HDP, Mithat Sancar, told reporters on Friday, referring to the arrest warrants.

The HDP is Turkey's second-largest opposition group in the parliament.

Former HDP leaders, Figen Yuksekdag and Selahattin Demirtas, were named in the latest investigation, but both have been in jail since 2016 pending multiple trials.

The party's mayor of the eastern city of Kars, Ayhan Bilgen, was detained on Friday, Anadolu said. Bilgen won the city in 2019 local elections.

Of the 65 HDP mayors returned in those elections, 47 have now been replaced by unelected officials, with some detained on terror charges, the party said last month.

IMMUNITY UNDER THREAT

The prosecutor's office said later on Friday that 61 suspects were believed to be "in the mountains" with Kurdish militants or abroad, while one remained on the run in Turkey.

The prosecutor's office did not specify what offences the 82 are alleged to have committed.

But it said crimes during the protests included murder, attempted murder, theft, damaging property, looting, burning the Turkish flag and injuring 326 security officials and 435 citizens.

The prosecutor's office added that it was preparing to strip parliamentary immunity from seven current HDP lawmakers who were members of the party's central executive committee during the unrest.

"The HDP is not responsible for the 6-8 October Kobane protests," Sancar added in Ankara.

"On the contrary, it is the ruling power that is responsible in terms of their attitude to what happened in Kobane and attacks on those reacting to (IS) attacks."

IS jihadists were driven out of Kobane in January 2015 by US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Sancar accused the government of trying to "neutralise and if possible finish off" the HDP, but insisted "the people support us".

Some 200 people rallied on the eastern, Asian side of Istanbul later on Friday in support of the HDP, according to AFP reporters.

"It's because we scare them, because they see us as a danger that they target us," said protester Nihal Tas, 40.

"For seven years the HDP has been a standing political party," added party supporter Cesur Yilmaz, 24.

"And the HDP will continue its historic struggle. Even if there is only one HDP supporter left, the struggle will continue."

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