DIYARBAKIR (Reuters)–Three Kurdish mayors whose arrest on charges of links to armed militia sparked international concern were freed on bail on Monday and allowed to return to work.
Police used batons to disperse part of a chanting crowd welcoming the mayors as they stepped out of a high-security jail in Diyarbakir–regional capital of the mainly Kurdish southeast.
"Justice has been served," said Diyarbakir mayor Feridun Celik–who was released together with the mayors of Bingol and Siirt.
A state security court in the city decided earlier in the day the men’should be set free pending trial on charges of aiding Abdullah Ocalan’s Kurdish followers.
The Interior Ministry later said the mayors could return to their work–Anatolian news agency said.
The arrest of the three People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) mayors nine days ago sparked protests both at home and from the European Union. Riot police broke up protests last week in support of the mayors.
Ankara’s main ally–the United States–said the detentions were "deeply puzzling and deeply disturbing" while the EU–for which Turkey is a membership candidate–made a formal complaint.
Greece–whose relations with Turkey have improved in recent months–welcomed the court decision. "It is a positive development–even though it has resulted from international pressure," said Greek spokesman Dimitris Reppas. France said it was concerned the mayors still faced a trial.
HADEP campaigns for cultural rights for Turkey’s estimated 12 million Kurds–but authorities suspect it of operating hand in glove with Ocalan’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)–accused by Ankara of responsibility for more than 30,000 deaths over 15 years.
HADEP had earlier urged officials to reverse a decision to remove the mayors from office.
The mayors came to office last April when HADEP swept to power in local polls across the southeast–benefiting from frustration over what many in the region see as government failure to address critical issues and some resentment over the treatment of PKK leader Ocalan.
Ocalan was shown on television blindfolded and bound after his capture in Kenya last February.
Ocalan is now awaiting a European Court of Human Rights verdict on his appeal against his death sentence.
He has ordered his followers to abandon the armed struggle and seek a political role.
Six months of relative peace have followed which many fear could be jeopardized by the mayors’ arrests or by the execution of Ocalan.