Turkey seeks arrest of Kurdish politicians over 2014 riots

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish prosecutors issued detention warrants Friday for 82 people, including pro-Kurdish former lawmakers, as part of an investigation into deadly riots that were sparked by anger over the government’s perceived inaction against Islamic State group militants who had besieged a Syrian town across the border from Turkey.

The three days of riots in early October 2014 were the worst in Turkey in recent years, resulting in 37 deaths and leaving hundreds of others — police and civilians — injured. Clashes between protesters and police spread across the country, including to Ankara and Istanbu.

Turkish officials accused leaders of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP of inciting the protests by Kurds who were angered by what they considered to be Turkish support for IS militants advancing on the mostly-Kurdish town of Kobane. Turkey eventually allowed Iraqi Kurdish fighters to cross into Syria to defend the town.

Twenty of the wanted suspects were detained on Friday, the Ankara chief prosecutor's office said. State-run Anadolu Agency reported that police carried out simultaneous raids in seven provinces. Among those held were Ayhan Bilgen, the current mayor of the eastern city of Kars, six former HDP lawmakers, and other former party executives, the news agency said. .

The warrants also target several commanders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which is considered a terror organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, according to the prosecutor's office. Turkish officials maintain that HDP party leaders took instructions from the PKK for a “rebellion” against the state.

The pro-Kurdish party’s co-chairman, Mithat Sancar, denied responsibility for the clashes.

“Despite trying for six years, they have failed to produce evidence to prove our party’s responsibility for the events,” Sancar said, adding that the government was to blame for its position toward Kobane and allegedly stoking tensions on the streets.

It was not immediately clear why the investigation against the 82 people was launched six years after the 2014 clashes. HDP’s former leaders, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, were arrested over the violence and remain jailed as they face several trials on terror-related charges.

“If they think they will forget those responsible for these incidents that killed so many civilians, they are greatly mistaken,” Industry and Technology Minister Murat Varank said.

Separately, the prosecutor’s office said it would petition the Turkish parliament to lift the legal immunity of seven current HDP legislators as part of the investigation.

The government accuses the HDP, Turkey's third largest party in parliament, of links to the PKK — a charge the pro-Kurdish party denies. The government has frequently cracked down on the political movement, stripping lawmakers of their legislative seats, arresting and removing elected mayors from office and replacing them with government-appointed trustees. Several HDP lawmakers have been jailed alongside Demirtas and Yuksekdag, on terror-related charges.