By Umit Ozdal
DIYARBAKIR (Reuters) – Turkish police detained dozens of people and used water cannon on Friday to disperse several hundred teachers demonstrating against their suspension from classrooms in the largely Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, union sources said and TV footage showed.
Brawls erupted and police pushed back crowds chanting “shoulder to shoulder against fascism” after Turkish authorities suspended more than 11,000 teachers on Thursday over alleged links with the Kurdish militants.
A further 1,151 teachers were also suspended from duty in the predominantly Kurdish eastern provinces of Tunceli and Van on Friday, Dogan news agency reported. Several hundred teachers gathered in front of the education ministry’s provincial building Tunceli to protest, Reuters TV footage showed.
“This is an attack on our unionised struggle,” Suleyman Guler, the provincial head of the education union, Egitim-Sen, told Reuters. Guler was also suspended from work.
“It is not possible to accept this decision. There is neither a crime here nor a criminal. We call for the immediate halt of this move,” he said.
The suspensions were part of the government’s campaign against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the mainly Kurdish southeast. It comes as Ankara also pushes ahead with a purge of tens of thousands of supporters of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey accuses of orchestrating an attempted coup in July. Gulen denies any involvement.
The scope of that crackdown has raised concern among rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies, who fear President Tayyip Erdogan is using the failed coup as pretext to curtail dissent.
The anti-PKK campaign is Turkey’s largest ever against the militant group, and the removal of civil servants linked to the PKK is a key part of the fight, Erdogan said on Thursday.
Turkey will remove municipal managers who support the PKK and appoint new administrators to more than two dozen municipalities, interior minister Suleyman Soylu told state broadcaster TRT.
“The management of 28 municipalities will be removed from under the instructions of Qandil and will be transformed to the will of the sons of this nation,” he said, referring to the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq where the PKK’s senior leadership is based.
Demonstrations have been banned across Diyarbakir province since mid-August during the state of emergency declared after the failed coup. On Friday, the Diyarbakir governor’s office also imposed a curfew in more than a dozen neighbourhoods across three districts, as security operations were planned against Kurdish militants in the region.
More than 40,000 people have died since autonomy-seeking PKK launched its insurgency against the Turkish state more than 30 years ago. The PKK is regarded as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
(Additional reporting by Ercan Gurses in Ankara; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by David Dolan, Larry King)