Turkey arrests 24 over criticism of Syria offensive: news agency

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish authorities have arrested 24 people for spreading “black propaganda” on social media about Ankara’s military operation in Syria, the state-run Anadolu news agency said on Wednesday.

In northeast Syria, where Turkey is aiming to establish a “safe zone” to settle millions of Syrian refugees, Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies pressed ahead with their offensive, while Russia-backed Syrian troops moved on the city of Manbij after it was abandoned by U.S. forces.

Since the start of the operation, authorities have carried out a widespread crackdown on individuals criticizing the Turkish operation, launching investigations against hundreds of people, including Kurdish lawmakers.

On Wednesday, Anadolu said 24 of the 186 people who had been detained for criticizing the operation on social media had been formally arrested. The suspects had been accused of “provoking the public to hatred and animosity” and “carrying out propaganda for a terrorist organization”.

Turkey says it will clear a large area along its border with Syria, targeting the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which it says is a terrorist group linked to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.

While most of Turkey’s opposition parties have backed the operation, the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) has called for an end to what it describes it as an “invasion attempt”. Prosecutors launched an investigation against the HDP’s co-chairs over their comments.

Authorities launched similar investigations after Turkey’s two previous cross-border operations. More than 300 people were detained for social media posts criticizing an offensive into northern Syria in January 2018.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Giles Elgood