Turkish police tear-gas Kurds protesting crackdown in country’s southeast

A man runs to take cover as Turkish riot police use a water cannon to disperse Kurdish demonstrators during a protest against a curfew in Sur district and security operations in the region, in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Turkey March 2, 2016 © Sertac Kayar
Turkey’s police used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets against demonstrators in the largely Kurdish city of Diyarbakir located in the country’s southeast as hundreds took to the streets to protest against a month-long curfew.

Hundreds of people marched through the city of Diyarbakir towards the Sur district, which has been under curfew since December 2015, to protest against the violent Turkish crackdown in the country’s southeast, launched in August 2015.

Some protesters were throwing stones and fireworks at police, Germany’s DPA reported. Police reacted violently and dispersed the crowds with plastic and rubber bullets as well as with tear gas and water cannons. 33 people were arrested at the protests, Reuters reported.

The march was called by a co-chair of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas, who urged “all Diyarbakır people” to stop the “massacre” and “make a stand to lift the blockade in Sur,” Today’s Zaman reports. Democratic Regions Party (DBP) co-chair Kamuran Yüksek also joined Demirtas’s address, as reported by Hurriyet Daily.

“We don't see it as normal that a war has been ongoing in the center of the province for three months,” Demirtas said in his appeal to the people. “This is a democratic right guaranteed by the Constitution,” he added.

Demirtas also told Reuters that his party would “resist” what he called the destruction of cities and killing of civilians under the pretense of combating terrorism. “The people of Diyarbakir are against the government's policy of war and massacre and the burning and destruction of their own city,” he said.

In response, the Diyarbakir Governor’s Office imposed a ban on entering the Sur district on Wednesday to prevent “disruptions of public order and safety.”

‘Nobody has the right to create chaos and disturb the peace in my country’ - Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged prosecutors to take legal action against Demirtas, as he spoke at a press conference during his visit to Nigeria.

“I think the prosecutors have to perform their duties, because nobody has the right to create chaos and disturb the peace in my country,” he said as quoted by Today’s Zaman. He also denounced Demirtas’s appeal as a “call for terror.” Erdogan's statement was backed by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Interior Minister Efkan Ala.

Investigations have been launched against both Demirtas and Yuksek over their calls for the protests.

Diyarbakir, one of the largest cities in southeastern Turkey, is considered an unofficial capital of the Turkish Kurds. The city has seen a number of clashes since Ankara launched a security operation there in recent months.

In August, Ankara began a ground operation to crack down on Kurdish fighters linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The violence ended a two-year truce with the Kurdish militants, who have been fighting a guerrilla war for independence for decades.

Since the start of the security forces operation, Turkish troops have imposed dozens of curfews in Kurdish regions, disrupting the lives of some 1.4 million people, the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) said. According to the group, in five months of battling the Kurdish insurgency in the Turkey’s southeast, Ankara killed over 160 civilians.

At the same time, People’s Democratic Party puts the civilian death toll over the period since December at 211, Reuters reported.