Turkish Court Arrests Kurdish Party Leader

ANKARA (Reuters)–A Turkish court on Thursday arrested the country’s main Kurdish party leader on a charge of links to Abdullah Ocalan’s group–state-run Anatolian news agency said.

The agency said Murat Bozlak–leader of the Peoples’ Democracy Party (HADEP)–was arrested after the party had allegedly organized a nationwide hunger strike at HADEP offices to protest Ocalan’s capture last week in Italy.

Anti-terror police teams raided HADEP headquarters and offices nationwide in an official crackdown amid growing public anger at signs that Italy will not extradite the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) chief.

Turkey has called for the extradition of Ocalan–who is seeking political asylum in a growing row between Ankara and Rome.

HADEP–the country’s only legal Kurdish party–favors a negotiated solution to Turkey’s 14-year-old Kurdish conflict.

A party official told Reuters police arrested 60 people–including HADEP Ankara representative Kemal Bulbul in raids on party offices in Ankara. Anti-terror police did not explain why they carried out the searches and detentions–he told Reuters.

Anatolian news agency said a further 190 people–including local HADEP leaders–were arrested during police searches on party offices in the towns of Bursa–Van and Antalya.

The Ankara office of Kurdish newspaper Ulkede Gundem was also searched by police. The newspaper said in October it had closed down in line with a court order for "inciting hatred" in an article.

Earlier in the week more than 500 people were detained during police raids on HADEP offices elsewhere in Turkey. A party official has said police carried out the raids after relatives of hunger striking Kurdish prisoners held a similar protest in party offices.

"Relatives of hunger-striking prisoners had started hunger strikes themselves and were in the offices–that’s why the raids were carried out," she told Reuters on Tuesday.

A court in Ankara on Tuesday sentenced HADEP leader Murat Bozlak to a year in jail for speeches made in 1993 but his Thursday arrest appeared unrelated to this sentence.

Bozlak and 14 other members of a now-banned predecessor party were found to have spread "separatist propaganda" in various publications and speeches.

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