Turkish police detain leading activist at airport: EU official

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish police have detained prominent activist and businessman Osman Kavala at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, Turkish media and a senior European parliamentarian said on Thursday.

Kavala, whose Anadolu Kultur center says it campaigns for rights and cultural diversity including Kurdish issues, was taken to the city’s counter-terrorism police department, the T24 news website cited his lawyer as saying.

Istanbul police declined to comment and there was no immediate statement from the government.

“Very disturbing news that Osman Kavala has been detained in Istanbul,” The European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, Kati Piri, wrote on Twitter.

T24 said he was detained on Wednesday evening as he returned from a meeting in the southeastern city of Gaziantep after an order was issued for him to be detained for seven days.

Police took computers from Anadolu Kultur’s offices, it added.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Kavala’s arrest was an example of a “very alarming trend” of detention of civil society leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, academics and activists in Turkey.

“We have expressed to the Turkish government our concerns on many occasions about this trend ... It remains a major concern of ours,” she told reporters in Washington.

France’s foreign ministry said on Thursday it was worried by the arrest of Kavala, calling him “one of the most important and respected figures of the Turkish cultural scene and of civil society”.

“France like other European countries, regularly cooperate with Mr Kavala, who is a regular interlocutor to our embassy. (We) will be very attentive to developments in this case,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne told reporters.

Reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul, John Irish in Paris, and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Ece Toksabay and Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Diane Craft