Turkish officers detain a protester after the arrest of two Kurdish leaders in Diyarbakir.

Story highlights

People demonstrating the detention of two Kurdish politicians were met with tear gas, water cannons

Politicians were arrested on terrorism-related charges

Istanbul CNN  — 

Riot police used water cannons to disperse demonstrators who gathered to protest the detention of two prominent Kurdish politicians in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir.

The protests followed police raids carried out late Tuesday targeting the city’s first elected female mayor, Gultan Kisanak.

Kisanak and her elected co-mayor, Firat Anli – who also was detained – are politicians from Turkey’s main Kurdish political opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Turkish anti-riot police use a water cannon to disperse protesters in Diyarbakir.

Turkey’s official Anadolu Agency reports both politicians have been held on terrorism-related charges. They also are accused of inciting violent protests and of using municipal vehicles to transport the bodies of dead militants, according to a statement Wednesday from the Diyarbakir prosecutor.

The prosecutor issued orders to arrest 22 others.

A 30-year-old conflict between the Turkish state and militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) reignited more than a year ago in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.

The Kurds are Turkey’s largest ethnic minority. For much of the 20th century, the state oppressed this community, referring to Kurds as “Mountain Turks” and banning the use of their language.

Idris Baluken, a member of HDP and a member of the Turkish Parliament, said, “This is an attack on Kurdish Identity and dignity. This attack is no different then any attack on Kurdish officials in the last 100 years.”

Turkey, and its NATO allies in the US and Europe, have long designated the PKK a terrorist organization.

As deadly clashes between security forces and PKK militants have escalated over the last year, the Turkish government has increasingly cracked down on Kurdish politicians and media.

Last May, the government stripped legal immunity from scores of mostly Kurdish opposition lawmakers elected to the Turkish Parliament.

Turkish authorities have shut down nearly all the newspapers and television stations believed to be linked to the Kurdish opposition movement in Turkey.

Police push back protesters unhappy with the detention of Kurdish leaders in Diyarbakir.

Early Wednesday, residents reported widespread internet outages across much of southeastern Turkey, prompting accusations of censorship.

“Wherever there is a small protest, they cut the lines so that people wont be able to communicate,” claimed Nursel Aydogan, a member of parliament from the HDP.

“There is no TV in Turkey who will show what happened today in Diyarbakir. As opposition forces, what remains to us is social media and they have taken this from us,” she said in a phone call with CNN.

The detention of the mayor and co-mayor of Diyarbakir comes after authorities replaced dozens of other elected HDP mayors. Members of the party called on supporters to back their elected officials and continue their protest.

In September, the government appointed new administrators in 25 municipalities after removing their elected mayors over suspected links to PKK.

A top Turkish official accused the removed city and town officials of misappropriating public funds.

“If mayors transfer money to terror organizations or try to divide the country they are punished within the laws,” Urban Planning and Environment Minister Mehmet Ozhaseki told journalists.

“The justice is working,” he said, according to Anadolu Agency.

But pro-Kurdish opposition leaders argue this is a purely anti-democratic measure.

“As a result of not finding a solution to the Kurdish issue, they apply non-democratic methods,” said Aydogan, the lawmaker from HDP. “They aim to purge a legal political party.”

CNN translator Alan Baran contributed to this report.