DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Turkey’s pro-Kurdish parliamentary opposition launched three months of protests on Tuesday against a state crackdown which has seen dozens of lawmakers and mayors jailed over suspected links to militant separatists.
Hundreds of police, backed by armored vehicles and water cannon, imposed tight security at a park where 10 lawmakers of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) gathered in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the mainly Kurdish southeast of the country.
The HDP said police had initially allowed the protest, but later blocked off shaded areas of the park, leaving access only to an exposed paved area under a hot sun. It said in a statement only a few of its members were able to make their way inside.
“The blockade at this park is a sign of the real situation in Turkey... A political party that got 70 percent of votes (in Diyarbakir) cannot carry out its group meeting in the park,” HDP spokesman Osman Baydemir told reporters.
Ankara says the HDP is linked to the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decades-old insurgency and is deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union. The HDP denies the allegation.
Eleven HDP deputies have been jailed pending trial, more than 70 elected mayors from the HDP’s southeastern affiliate have been remanded in custody in terrorism-related investigations, and their municipalities taken over by state officials. Thousands of party members have also been arrested.
The HDP plans to hold round-the-clock, week-long protests led by its own lawmakers in Istanbul, the southeastern city of Van and the western port city of Izmir as part of the campaign.
“Fascism can only be stopped through a democratic battle. This is what we’re saying. We will be here for seven days, 24 hours a day,” said Baydemir. “No violence, no animosity, we are just shouting that we have not given in to fascism.”
Baydmemir has said the HDP will hold protests until Nov. 4, the anniversary of the arrest of its co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag. Their arrests drew international condemnation and Yuksekdag has since been stripped of her parliamentary status and replaced as co-chairwoman.
The HDP protest call came two weeks after Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, the secularist CHP, completed a 25-day protest march from the capital Ankara to Istanbul over a state crackdown on suspected supporters of last year’s abortive military coup.
Turkish authorities have jailed, pending trial, more than 50,000 people and suspended or dismissed some 150,000 from their jobs since imposing emergency rule soon after the failed putsch.
Writing by Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Gareth Jones