A huge car bomb killed at least nine people in the largest city in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast region Friday, shortly after authorities detained a dozen Kurdish lawmakers in relation to a terrorism investigation.
The violence and the arrests come as Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been increasingly criticized by his NATO allies in Europe for veering toward authoritarianism and away from the democratic values they share.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said up to 100 people were also wounded in the Diyarbakir bombing, the Associated Press reported. Yildirim said two police officers, a technician and five civilians were among those killed.
The incident took place near a building used by riot police and came hours after authorities detained at least 12 pro-Kurdish legislators from the People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, for questioning in terror-related probes. The Diyarbakir governor’s office said Friday's bomb may have been planted by rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, according to the AP.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility.
Turkey's interior ministry said the lawmakers were arrested for not appearing in court for questioning regarding alleged terrorism and "terrorist propaganda,” according to Turkey-owned Andalou Agency. The arrests came in the form of simultaneous police raids on members' homes, together with a blackout of social media and messaging platforms including Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.
Prosecutors are investigating the lawmakers' role in calling supporters into the streets in October 2014, after Islamic State militants took the Syrian town of Kobani, Andalou reported. Those protests resulted in several deaths, including two police officers. The government accuses the HDP of being the political arm of the PKK, a claim the party rejects.
HDP lawmakers warned when parliament revoked members' immunity last May that they would not willingly participate in investigations, according to a statement provided by the Turkish embassy in Washington.
"The arrests are just the last step in five days of non-stop repression" against Turkey's Kurdish minority and their leaders, who represent the third-largest voting block in parliament, said Aykan Erdemir, an analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy.
Erdemir was referring to a series of actions ordered by Erdogan starting Oct. 29, when he issued two emergency decrees.
Those include the dismissal of 10,000 civil servants, the closing of 15 Kurdish media outlets, and the abolition of elections for university rectors or presidents, whom Erdogan will now appoint. They also allow for detainees to be held for up to six months without access to legal counsel, and remove the guarantee of attorney-client privilege. And foreigners can now be deported without a court order.
The actions came after Erdogan had already detained 37,000 people, dismissed 100,000 from government posts and shut down 170 media outlets in the aftermath of an aborted coup July 15. Turkey is also considering restoring the death penalty to its penal system, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung on Thursday.
Together with Friday's detentions, the decrees and other actions are seen as "a civilian coup," Erdemir said. "People are seeing this akin to the 1980 coup and the July 15 aborted coup in the sense that this is an illegitimate grasp of people’s democratic will."
Erdogan is playing with fire, he said.
"The more the Kurdish electorate is disenfranchised, the more Kurdish youth could turn to violence and extremism," Erdemir said. "Turkey's Kurds as of today no longer see any legitimate avenue for political participation."
A series of deadly bomb attacks have hit Turkey in the past 18 months. Turkey says some were carried out by Kurdish militants and others by the Islamic State. The PKK, which seeks an independent Kurdish state, has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey and is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its allies, including the United States.
Erdogan's consolidation of power since before last summer's aborted coup has been criticized by leaders in the European Union, where Turkey has been seeking membership. Federica Mogherini, the European Union's top foreign affairs diplomat, said Friday she was "extremely worried" by the arrests and called a meeting of EU ambassadors in Ankara.
Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of the EU parliament, went further.
"What happened in Turkey this morning can be added to a long list of events in which the Turkish authorities have failed to respect the rule of law and democratic principles, human rights and press freedoms," Schaake said in a statement on her web site. "It is time the EU attaches consequences to these developments."
Schaake called for the EU to freeze Turkey's membership talks "until meaningful benchmarks towards respect for the rule of law are met."