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At least 65 detained in operation targeting Kurdish politicians ahead of critical presidential runoff

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Turkish police on Tuesday detained at least 65 people in raids across Turkey in operations targeting Kurds ahead of a critical presidential runoff on May 28, local media reported.

The detainees include members of the pro-Kurdish Green Left Party (YSP) as well as executives from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK).

The raids in 11 provinces were carried out as part of investigations overseen by the chief public prosecutor’s offices in Tekirdağ, Mersin and Mardin.

At the order of the Tekirdağ Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, police detained 24 individuals in five provinces on terrorism-related charges due to their alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging a bloody campaign in Turkey’s southeast since 1984 and is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

It is not uncommon in Turkey for Kurds, especially politicians, to face terrorism-related charges due to their alleged links to the PKK, and European bodies and international monitors time and again have accused the Turkish government of using vague anti-terror laws to crack down on dissent.

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu commended the operation on Twitter, claiming that among those detained was an individual who served as a bodyguard to PKK leader Duran Kalkan.

Police and gendarmes detained 17 people, including former district co-chairs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Democratic Regions Party (DBP), on warrants issued by the Mardin Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The warrants included charges of “aiding and abetting a terrorist organization.”

According to the Mezopotamya News Agency, an operation carried out on the order of the Mersin Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office resulted in the detention of 24 individuals, including administrators of the HDP, DBP and the Çukurova Association for Solidarity with Families of Prisoners and Convicts (Çukurova TUAY-DER), as well as journalist Delal Akyüz.

The operation was conducted in Mersin, Ankara, Antalya, Adana, and İzmir provinces based on allegations of sending money to prisoners imprisoned on charges of PKK membership.

Turkey is poised to hold a runoff on May 28 following results from the May 14 presidential election that showed incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan failing to secure a victory against his secular rival, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kılıçdaroğlu.

According to the official results, Erdoğan received 49.52 percent of the vote, while Kılıçdaroğlu, the candidate of the opposition bloc Nation Alliance, garnered 44.88 percent.

According to the still unofficial results of the parliamentary elections, Erdoğan’s ruling Public Alliance secured a parliamentary majority, garnering 321 of 600 seats.

Turkey’s embattled incumbent has often accused the HDP of links to the PKK, which the party denies.

The HDP faces a closure case on terrorism charges, and it ran in the parliamentary election under the banner of the YSP to avoid the risks of the party’s closure before the elections.

The YSP secured 61 seats in the parliament with 8.8 percent of the vote.

The HDP said in March that it would not field a presidential candidate in the May 14 elections.

The party announced in late April that it would support Kılıçdaroğlu and reiterated its endorsement for the runoff.

In the runup to May 14 elections, the Turkish government has intensified an ongoing legal assault on Kurds, who are seen as the kingmaker in the presidential election.

Nuray Özdoğan, a co-spokesperson for the HDP’s law and human rights commissions, said on May 7 that 295 people were detained and 61 were arrested in several investigations over the course of a month as part of a crackdown on the HDP.

A government crackdown on Kurdish parties and politicians in Turkey reached new heights following a coup attempt in the country in July 2016.

Dozens of democratically elected Kurdish mayors were removed from office, while a large number of Kurdish politicians, including the former co-chairs of the HDP, were jailed following the coup attempt.

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