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Kurds take to the streets of Cologne in anti-Erdogan protests

Some 7,000 German-based Kurds have protested the Turkish government's detention of pro-Kurdish politicians and journalists. Turkish authorities detained 15 top-level officials from the pro-Kurdish HDP on Friday night.

Kurds hailing from across the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia gathered in central Cologne early Saturday afternoon to take part in the rally organized by the Nav-Dem group, the largest umbrella organization for Kurdish groups in Germany.

According to local police, there have been no reports of skirmishes or violence. Around 100 police officers have closed off the roads around Cologne's city center.

Protesters held aloft placards and waved flags bearing the face of Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK). Germany's domestic intelligence agency considers many Nav-Dev affiliate groups to be associated with the PKK. However, because the European Union lists the PKK as a terrorist organization, party membership and representation is a criminal offence in Germany.

Other placards decried Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "Sultan Erdogan" read one sign. Another read "Stop the Erdogan dictatorship."

Organizers had said they were expecting up to 15,000 participants to take to the street throughout the course of the day.

Parliamentary member for the Left Party Bernd Riexinger is also expected to speak at the demonstration.

Crackdown on pro-Kurdish parties

Anti-terror raids on Friday night in the Kurdish region of Diyarbakir in south-eastern Turkey led to two leaders from the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) being detained on terrorism-related charges. Around 13 top-level party officials were also arrested.

Turkey's government accuses the HDP of having links to the PKK, which is banned in Turkey and has admitted to bombings that targeted authorities in the country. The HDP denies these links.

More than 1,000 HDP members have been formally arrested in the past year. The party says it is being targeted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan because it opposes his plans to expand his power through constitutional reforms.

A spokesperson for the demonstrators said the rally marked the Kurdish resistance to Erdogan. The recent wave of political arrests signaled "the end of Turkish democracy," the spokesperson said, adding that the Turkish government is trying to "muzzle" the country's third-largest party. 

Since the failed coup attempt in July last year, more than 35,000 people have been detained and tens of thousands of civil servants have been fired in a government-led purge against regime critics.

Nine staff members of the opposition Turkish newspaper "Cumhuriyet," including its editor-in-chief, were also placed under formal arrest this week.

dm/rc (dpa, AFP)

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