Last updated: 22 November, 2011

Turkey arrests 70 for suspected Kurd rebel links

Turkish police arrested more than 70 people in coordinated raids around the country on Tuesday for suspected links to outlawed Kurdish rebels, media reports said.

Lawyers for jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan and some members of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) were among those arrested, security sources in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir said.

Police conducted simultaneous operations in 16 different provinces including Istanbul, Diyarbakir, Ankara and Bursa, media reports said, while the private news channel NTV said more than 70 people had been arrested.

Police also raided the office of Ocalan’s lawyers in Istanbul, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.

The suspects are accused of having links with the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), which Turkey claims to be the urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Those arrested include 47 of Ocalan’s lawyers who had visited him on the prison island of Imrali at various times and are accused of transmitting his orders to the PKK, the Anatolia news agency said.

The PKK, which took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives, is labelled a terrorist outfit by Ankara and much of the international community.

Since 2009, some 700 people have been arrested over their alleged links to the KCK, according to government figures, although the BDP puts the figure at more than 3,500.

Five BDP parliamentarians and two prominent intellectuals — publisher Ragip Zarakolu and academic Busra Ersanli — are in custody on the same charges.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month that his government would not ease its crackdown on the KCK, which Ankara claims wants to replace Turkish government institutions in the southeastern Anatolia region with its own political structures.

Turkey, like Iraq, Iran and Syria, is home to a large Kurdish community.

Ocalan was jailed for life in 1999, but many Kurds in Turkey still consider him their leader.