Police use tear gas on protesters in Istanbul; newspaper staff arrested pending trial

Riot police use water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters during a rally against the arrest of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) lawmakers, in Istanbul.
Riot police use water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters during a rally against the arrest of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) lawmakers, in Istanbul.PHOTO: REUTERS

ANKARA/ISTANBUL (REUTERS) - Turkish authorities ordered on Saturday that the editor and senior staff of a leading opposition newspaper be arrested pending trial, as more pro-Kurdish officials were detained, sparking protests against the widening state crackdown.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon on a crowd of around 1,000 protesters in central Istanbul who were trying to get to the offices of the secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper. Nine of its journalists and executives were detained on Monday. Prosecutors said staff at the paper, one of the few still critical of President Tayyip Erdogan, were suspected of crimes committed on behalf of Kurdish militants and U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of instigating a coup attempt.

Since the failed coup in July, more than 110,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants have been detained or suspended in a crackdown that Erdogan's critics say is quashing legitimate opposition. "The international community is outraged. What are you trying to do? Are you trying to create a Turkey where everyone is in jail?" the head of the main opposition party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said.

"What has the Cumhuriyet newspaper done? Have they planted bombs somewhere?"

On Saturday, authorities appointed a new mayor to Sirnak municipality, part of a campaign over recent weeks of replacing pro-Kurdish officials in the mostly Kurdish southeast.

A bomb in Sirnak province on Saturday killed two children and wounded four, an attack that the local governor's office blamed on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

On Friday, the co-leaders of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) were jailed pending trial and several others were arrested.

Erdogan has accused Turkey's third-largest party of links to the PKK which has carried out an insurgency for three decades.

The HDP denies that and says it is working for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. It says it is being targeted by Erdogan in a drive to help the ruling AKP push through a constitutional change that would give him the executive presidential powers he has long sought.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has said the HDP lawmakers were detained after refusing to give testimony in a probe linked to "terrorist propaganda".

One HDP member of parliament detained on Friday and then released said the party had no intention of cooperating. "You will have to keep waiting if you expect us to show our necks like sheep at a butcher's," Sirri Sureyya Onder was quoted as saying by the Dogan news agency. "We will not be instruments in your false legal actions."

The scope of the crackdown has rattled the West.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said Turkey's treatment of the media was "completely unacceptable", telling the Donaukurier newspaper that Ankara was violating the core values of the European Union which Turkey hopes to join.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she was "extremely worried" by the arrests, and raised her concerns in a telephone call with Turkey's foreign and EU affairs ministers late on Friday. The United States expressed "deep concern", while the lira currency fell to a record low.

Hours after Friday's detentions, a car bomb killed 11 people and wounded more than 100 near a police station in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir where some HDP lawmakers were being held.

Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack, the militants' Amaq news agency said. But the Diyarbakir governor's office said the bomb was the work of the PKK, citing intercepted communications between Kurish militants.

Some 170 newspapers, magazines, TV stations and news agencies have been closed in the crackdown, leaving 2,500 journalists unemployed, Turkey's journalists' association said.

Cumhuriyet's previous editor, Can Dundar, was jailed last year for publishing state secrets involving Turkey's support for Syrian rebels. He was later released and is now overseas to avoid arrest.