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Turkish police disperse protesters in Diyarbakir after arrest of Kurdish mayors

Police in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir have used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters. The demonstrations took place following the arrest of the town's Kurdish mayor and her deputy.

Security personnel dispersed a gathering of around 300 people and arrested more than two dozen protesters outside Diyarbakir's city hall, news agencies reported on Wednesday. The city's residents also reported internet outages following the unrest.

The demonstrations took place after Turkish officials arrested Mayor Gultan Kisanak, 55, and Firat Anli, the mayor's deputy, on Tuesday as part of a security crackdown on Kurdish separatists. A local prosecutor said Kisanak and Anli had given speeches supporting the separatist Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) and called for greater autonomy for around 16 million Kurds who live in Turkey. They were also accused of inciting violent protests in 2014.

Kisanak, a former member of parliament, was Diyarbakir's first female mayor. She was detained while flying back to her city from the capital Ankara, where she testified before a parliamentary commission investigating the failed coup on July 15.

Türkei Diyarbakir, Bügermeisterin Gultan Kisanak vor Absetzung (picture-alliance/AP Photo)

Gultan Kisanak was arrested early on Wednesday

Members of Kisanak's People's Democratic Party (HDP) condemned the detention, calling it illegal and part of the government's ploy aimed at "dissolving democratic politics and democratic opposition." In recent months, Ankara has replaced elected mayors in more than 24 Kurdish municipalities and detained many people affiliated with the HDP.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also criticized Kisanak's arrest.

"It is always essential that all steps are taken in full respect of the rule of law, due process and fundamental freedoms - all commitments Turkey has made as a candidate country [seeking EU membership], " Mogherini and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a statement on Wednesday.

Watch video 02:09

Turkey-PKK conflict: Clashes in southeast

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to end the Kurdish separatist movement and ordered the removal of officials and civil servants accused of having connections to the PKK, which it considers a terrorist group. 

The PKK, which seeks sovereignty for Kurdish areas in Turkey, has been fighting against the Turkish state since 1984. More than 40,000 people have died since the conflict began. Violence has surged since July 2015, after a ceasefire and peace talks collapsed.

The operation to remove Kurdish separatists comes amid Erdogan's crackdown on thousands of judges, police officers and teachers accused of having links with Fethullah Gulen, a US-based cleric suspected of masterminding the coup to depose Erdogan in July.

mg/sms (Reuters, dpa)

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