Kurdish opposition swept up in Turkish arrests after Iraq killings

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish police detained more than 700 people, including members of a pro-Kurdish political party, in operations against the PKK militia following the killing of 13 Turkish captives in northern Iraq, the Interior Ministry said on Monday.

The Turkish government said on Sunday that fighters from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) had executed police and military personnel who had mostly been seized in 2015 and 2016. The killings took place during a military operation.

The 718 people detained on Monday in 40 provinces across the country included provincial and district chairs from the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), parliament’s third-largest, the ministry said.

Opposition parties have accused the government of moving too slowly to free the captives.

The political fallout could raise the stakes in what analysts say are efforts by President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party to create a rift between the HDP and other opposition parties that cooperated in municipal elections in 2019 to hand Erdogan defeats.

Members of the HDP, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Iyi Party said the government had not acted even though they had previously raised the issue of the captured Turks in parliament.

Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, an HDP lawmaker, said negotiations had allowed for rescues in previous cases but the government had not considered such an option this time.

“There could have been a solution but this happened due to the government and the ruling party’s general policies,” he told Reuters. “They are not considering a solution or peace right now, therefore they did not attempt such an option.”

Erdogan rejected the criticism and said on Monday that Ankara had worked very hard to rescue the captives. He said the latest cross-border operation into Iraq, launched Feb. 10, had this goal.

Erdogan’s government, sliding in some opinion polls, has accused the HDP of links to the PKK and repeatedly detained or arrested its members. It has critisised the CHP for working with the HDP.

Erdogan’s communications director said on Twitter on Sunday: “PKK and HDP are one and the same”.

The HDP denies this and responded: “Nobody can clean the blood and tears they are responsible for by attacking the HDP.”

The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, has been waging an insurgency in the mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey since 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Turkey’s recent fight against the PKK has increasingly focused on northern Iraq, where the group has its stronghold in the Qandil mountains.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Angus MacSwan