(Bloomberg) -- Turkish police detained a dozen Kurdish lawmakers in post-midnight raids on Friday, extending a crackdown on the opposition as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan consolidates power following a July 15 coup attempt.
Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, co-chairs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, also known as the HDP, were sent to court after the top prosecutor in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir had sought their formal arrest for aiding terrorism. The party’s parliament whip, Idris Baluken, was arrested and jailed in nearby Bingol province.
At Erdogan’s request, parliament passed a law in May stripping HDP lawmakers of their immunity from prosecution, enabling them to be charged with terrorism-related offenses.
He has increasingly turned against HDP leaders after Demirtas ran against him in the vote for president in 2014, and then led his party to win seats in parliament for the first time the following year. That success helped prevent Erdogan from securing the mandate he sought to transfer the seat of power in Turkey from parliament to an enhanced executive presidency.
Erdogan says the HDP is merely a front for the PKK, or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, that has been fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast for decades. Demirtas rejects the claim but has said that doesn’t mean he has to see the PKK -- classified by Turkey, the U.S. and EU as a terrorist organization -- in the same way Erdogan does. He has offered to broker peace talks.
The 43-year old former human rights lawyer’s detention is likely to trigger more violence in Turkey’s Kurdish areas and strain the country’s ties with western allies who have accused Erdogan of stifling opposition after thwarting the military coup attempt three months ago.
“The European Union is gravely concerned about the detention last night of several HDP members,” the bloc said in a statement by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn. The arrests “compromise parliamentary democracy in Turkey and exacerbate the already very tense situation in the southeast of the country, for which there can only be a political solution.”
Most of the police raids were carried out in Diyarbakir, Turkey’s largest Kurdish-majority city, and in the capital Ankara.
In total, 12 HDP lawmakers were detained while three were later released. Three were formally arrested, while a court is considering the prosecutor’s demand that Demirtas and Yuksekdag both be sent to jail. Over the weekend, police had arrested the elected mayors of Diyarbakir and later replaced them with government appointees.
The latest wave of detentions was followed by reports of a massive explosion in Diyarbakir. The blast near a police building killed eight people and wounded more than 100 others, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said. The Diyarbakir governor issued a statement saying the PKK was behind the attack, but a day later Islamic State claimed responsibility, according to SITE Intelligence, which cited Islamic State’s Amaq news agency.
The detentions “are like to intensify the tension” in Turkey’s southeast, QNB Finansbank Chief Economist Gokce Celik said in an e-mailed note. The currency weakened to a record low following the news and was trading 1.1 percent weaker at 3.1438 per dollar at 3:12 p.m. in Istanbul. It also weakened to a record 3.5006 against the euro.
The lira is reflecting concerns that government purges against suspects of July’s failed coup may now be targeting dissidents, according to Nigel Rendell, a senior emerging-markets analyst at Medley Global Advisors LLC in London. So far, the government has sacked tens of thousands of civil servants for links to an Islamic movement led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the government says masterminded the failed putsch.
“Erdogan is extending his purge from so-called Gulenists to political opponents -- hence the move in the lira,” Rendell said. “The big risk is an escalation of violence -- further negative for the markets and the economy.”
Demirtas has vowed that members of his party wouldn’t abide by orders to appear before courts, saying the judiciary had become a servant of the ruling party and its orders were illegitimate. In his Friday morning testimony, Demirtas refused to take questions, HDP lawmaker Ahmet Yildirim told Bloomberg by phone from Diyarbakir. Instead, Demirtas delivered prepared remarks previously agreed on with other HDP lawmakers, Yildirim said.
The HDP is the third-largest party in Turkey’s parliament, holding 59 of the legislature’s 550 seats. It received more than 6 million votes in an election last June, before the election was repeated five months later amid intensified fighting between security forces and the PKK. The ruling AK Party, which Erdogan founded, has 317 seats and is pushing for a referendum on increasing his powers as president next year.
The Islamist-leaning ruling party, with support from other opposition parties, declared emergency rule following the July 15 coup attempt, allowing it to rule by decree.
More than 100,000 people have been fired, suspended or detained in the months following the botched putsch, including prominent journalists, activists and academics with no known connection to the group accused of instigating it.
Any surge in violence following the detentions may help Erdogan rally the nationalist opposition party MHP behind his bid to secure executive powers, Rendell said.
It’s “no coincidence that the arrest of the HDP leaders comes just at a time when” the ruling AKP is seeking parliament’s backing for a referendum on the constitutional overhaul, he said by e-mail.