Use of police force at Diyarbakır rally sparks controversy

Use of police force at Diyarbakır rally sparks controversy

Use of police force at Diyarbakır rally sparks controversy

A Kurdish demonstrator stands next to a burning car during Diyarbakır rally. AFP photo

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has criticized the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) for its persistence in holding a rally which was already banned by authorities, while the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has voiced anger over the use of police force against demonstrators.

Diyarbakır was the scene of street battles July 14, as police used pepper spray and water cannons to break up Kurdish demonstrations across the city in support of a BDP rally that had earlier been banned by the provincial government.

Turkey’s Kurdish issue-focused BDP planned the “Democratic Resistance for Freedom Rally” in order to protest the large-scale detentions in the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) probe, as well as the “isolation policy” for Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Erdoğan accused the BDP of putting Kurdish people at risk by insisting on a rally despite the ban. “Those who say ‘we will hold this meeting’ revealed their mentality. They don’t care what is in our Kurdish brothers’ favor. They put [Kurdish people’s] future at risk,” Erdoğan said on Saturday in Kocaeli.

Reaction from CHP

Speaking to the Daily News, CHP Deputy Chair Sezgin Tanrıkulu criticized the police’s use of force and said the government attempts to repress all oppositional political demonstrations.

The Diyarbakır governor’s office banned the rally last week on the grounds that intelligence had been gathered showing that illegal groups planned to use the rally as a provocation. On Friday the governor’s office announced that police had found six guns, including a Kalashnikov rifle, as well as hundreds of bullets and chargers, in an abandoned house near the Bağlar district of Diyarbakır.

Police took extraordinary safety measures all around Diyarbakır on July 14, with around 10,000 policemen on patrol after the BDP declared its determination to go ahead with the meeting. All groups who attempted to head for İstasyon Square, where the rally was planned to be held, were dispersed by the police with pepper spray and water cannons. Even people sitting in public gardens were forced to leave as the governor’s office had banned sitting in parks for security reasons.

Scuffles erupted when police tried to block BDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş, Gültan Kışanak and several deputies from entering İstasyon Square. BDP deputy parliamentary group chair Pervin Buldan’s leg was broken by a pepper spray capsule. Buldan spent the night in a Diyarbakır hospital and was taken to Istanbul by ambulance jet the morning of July 15.

In protest of the police crackdown, BDP co-chairs, deputies, mayors and around 300 BDP members staged a sit-in protest all night in Sümer Park near the square. Speaking on Sunday, a day after the protest, Demirtaş said the release of Öcalan will be the BDP’s priority issue.

The Diyarbakır governor’s office announced that 85 demonstrators were taken into custody during the protests, and 10 police officers were wounded by stones and explosives.