Turkey detains Kurds, hits militants after twin blasts

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 Turkey detained over 200 people including dozens of officials from pro-Kurdish parties and struck Kurdish militants in Iraq Monday in response to this weekend’s twin bombings claimed by a radical Kurd separatist group.

The toll from Saturday’s attacks, which struck an Istanbul football stadium and a nearby park, rose to 44 on Monday, Health Minister Recep Akdag said — 36 of them police officers.

Turkish jets pounded targets in northern Iraq, with the military saying it had hit “separatist terrorist organisation members”, referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The armed forces said they struck targets in the Zap region of northern Iraq, destroying militant headquarters as well as nearby shelters and gun positions.

In total, 235 people were detained in operations in 11 Turkish cities accused of acting on behalf of the PKK or producing propaganda for the group, some via social media, the interior ministry said.

The ministry did not give specific numbers of how many pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) officials and its sister Democratic Regions Party (DBP) were detained in early-morning raids.

The actions are likely to raise fears Ankara is going further in its crackdown and acting out of revenge against pro-Kurdish politicians who stand accused of links to the PKK — a charge that the HDP denies.

The weekend’s bloodshed was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), seen as a radical offshoot of the PKK which is itself regarded as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States.

TAK has claimed three major strikes this year in Istanbul and Ankara, killing a total of at least 73 people.

– Police targeted –

In the aftermath of the attacks a defiant President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to fight terror “to the end”.

Since the collapse of a ceasefire in July last year, Ankara has vowed to wipe out the PKK and has conducted several military operations against the group.

There have been frequent clashes between security forces and PKK militants and almost daily attacks on the military carried out by the group’s fighters in the southeast.

On Monday, television showed Erdogan visiting the scene of the attacks with ministers. He later attended the funerals of some of the slain police officers, an AFP photographer said.

Earlier, senior diplomats from several European countries paid their respects outside the Besiktas stadium, laying wreaths that added to the sea of flowers left by mourners.

Most of those killed by the car bomb outside the stadium were officers who had been policing a top flight game against Bursaspor.

Besiktas is one of Istanbul’s most popular football clubs, and its fans are known for their anti-establishment views. They famously played a big role in the 2013 protests against Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time.

Minutes after the car bomb, a suicide bomber blew himself up by a group of police at a nearby park.

Along with the 44 dead, 166 people were wounded in the two blasts, the health minister told parliament.

– Crackdown fears –

“Sooner or later we will have our revenge. The arm of the law is long,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu vowed Sunday.

But his remarks drew criticism, with Murat Yetkin, editor-in-chief of Hurriyet Daily News, penning an editorial in which he hit out at the government’s lack of “deep strategy… other than fiercely reacting”.

Yetkin charged that the government was using successive attacks “for a further tightening of measures, which turns into yet more limitations on freedoms but falls short of stopping acts of terror”.

Jean Marcou, professor at Sciences Po Grenoble and research director at the French Institute for Anatolian Studies, told AFP that the government’s attempts to calm public opinion after the latest attack “risks promoting increased repression against the HDP”.

Last month 10 HDP lawmakers — including co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag — were arrested and are currently being held in pre-trial detention.

HDP spokesman Ayhan Bilgen said Demirtas had suffered a heart spasm while imprisoned on Saturday, according to the party’s official Twitter account.

“Despite Demirtas suffering previous reported heart problems, he is deprived of the necessary health care,” Bilgen said.

The party claimed that during Monday’s police operations, “we came, you weren’t here” was sprayed on the wall of its Istanbul headquarters, along with the Turkish flag’s crescent and star in black.

Ankara, Dec 12, 2016 (AFP)

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