ISTANBUL (Reuters)–Turkey’s main Kurdish political party on Wednesday demanded the release of three Kurdish mayors arrested at the weekend–warning their imprisonment would fuel tensions in the southeast.
The Council of Europe also condemned the arrests–but Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the issue was beyond politics and purely a matter for the country’s courts.
The fate of the mayors – who were all elected with strong majorities – has dimmed hopes that Turkey would ease restrictions on peaceful Kurdish dissent after receiving candidacy for membership of the European Union last December.
The mayors of Diyarbakir–capital of the largely Kurdish southeast–and of Siirt were to appear in court late on Wednesday.
They may be formally charged for alleged contact with guerrillas–detention may be extended or they may be freed.
The mayor of Bingol was arrested in connection with an investigation into the other two detainees. Kemal Pekoz–head of the Istanbul office of the People’s Democratic Party (HADEP) to which the mayors belong–told journalists that the arrests could lead to disorder.
The authorities "must set our mayors free immediately and stop persisting with this mistake–to prevent Turkey entering a more tense atmosphere.
Otherwise they will prepare the ground for forces which want the sort of disorder which poisons the peaceful social atmosphere," he warned.
Outside the HADEP building–riot police backed by armoured vehicles monitored the small crowds of party supporters.
The Council of Europe expressed surprise that "the authorities–instead of seeking dialogue–are imprisoning elected representatives who have received the strong support of the citizens of their cities."
HADEP–which swept to power in city councils throughout the southeast last April–campaigns for Kurdish rights and a negotiated end to the conflict with the Kurdistan Workers Party.
"Did not someone say ‘the road to the EU passes through Diyarbakir’?" asked Milliyet newspaper commentator Derya Sazak–referring to commen’s made by a senior politician shortly after the EU made Turkey a candidate in December.
"So what has changed in the last two months to account for the harsh new climate?" Diyarbakir Mayor Celik’s arrest came shortly after he had met visiting Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh.
Lindh has been followed to Ankara by a succession of EU ministers this week–most of whom have spent time with human rights activists.