Police in Turkey have arrested 110 people over alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) weeks ahead of crucial elections with reports indicating politicians, lawyers and journalists are among those detained in raids.
Authorities on Tuesday said the detained are suspected of financing the PKK in addition to recruiting members or engaging in propaganda on behalf of the group, which Turkey and several Western nations consider to be a “terrorist” outfit.
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The PKK has been at war with the Turkish state since 1984.
Turkish media reported that Tuesday’s raids were conducted in 21 provinces, including in Diyarbakir in the southeast, which has a Kurdish majority.
The raids were conducted weeks ahead of May 14 parliamentary and presidential elections, which pose the most serious challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s two-decade rule over Turkey.
Tayip Temel, deputy leader of the country’s pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), directly linked the arrests with Erdogan’s efforts to secure a third term as president.
“On the eve of the election, the government has resorted once again to detentions out of fear of losing power,” he tweeted.
Temel and several other sources said politicians, journalists, lawyers and human rights activists were targeted during the raids, details of which are being kept under wraps.
The Diyarbakir Bar Association said on Twitter that lawyers are banned from contacting their clients for 24 hours and suggested the number of the detained could still rise.
The Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), a Turkish non-profit, said NGO leaders were among those who had their homes searched early in the morning.
Erdogan has found the toughest electoral test of his 20-year rule in opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Opinion polls give him a slight lead over the longtime Turkish leader.
The HDP has extended its tacit support to Kilicdaroglu by deciding not to field its own candidate in the presidential race. The HDP is not part of the main opposition alliance but is fiercely opposed to Erdogan for his policies towards the party and the PKK. The Turkish government has accused the HDP of having ties to the PKK, and the former leader of the HDP, Selahattin Demirtas, has been imprisoned after being found guilty in various cases tied to threatening officials and insulting the president.
Erdogan’s support has taken significant hits in recent years due to a struggling economy and accusations of authoritarianism. He has also faced criticism for his response to devastating earthquakes in February that killed 50,000 people and destroyed thousands of homes.
Erdogan, who has been Turkey’s leader since 2003 and has occupied the presidency since 2014, still retains significant support and could yet emerge on top alongside his AK Party.