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THOUSANDS of Turkish soldiers were mobilised today in operations targeting rural areas in the country’s largely Kurdish south-east, sparking anger among the population as scores of people were taken into custody.
The Interior Ministry announced Operation Bestler Dereler, sending just over 2,500 troops and village guards into part of Sirnak, Siirt, Van and Hakkari provinces in what is seen as an attempt to intimidate the locals.
The armed forces are angry after villagers reported that two Kurdish agricultural workers, Osman Siban and Servet Tugut, had been thrown from a military helicopter last month.
Soldiers had threatened to execute anyone who spoke about the incident, warning that their village would be burnt to the ground if they contacted the press.
The news was covered by journalists from the Mesopotamia News Agency, whose investigative work and dogged pursuit of the story revealed the truth despite an attempted cover-up by the state, which insisted that the farmers had fallen from rocks in an accident.
Four reporters who broke the news, which circulated internationally, Adnan Bilel, Cemil Ugur, Seheriban Ali and Nazan Sala, were jailed last week.
The soldiers who threw the men from the helicopter remain free.
The government claimed that the military mobilisation was aimed at stopping “the separatist organisation” — its derogatory term for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — from taking shelter in the rural border areas before winter sets in.
But locals feared reprisals and revenge attacks by Turkish troops in response to the reporting of the helicopter incident.
Shortly before the operation began, at least 22 supporters of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were detained in Hakkari, the constituency of leading HDP activist Leyla Guven, who was stripped of her parliamentary seat and jailed earlier this year on trumped-up terrorism charges.
Though she was released following international pressure, operations against the party have intensified, with hundreds of people taken into custody in the past few weeks.
Despite government attempts at what the HDP describes as “political genocide,” the party celebrated the eighth anniversary of its founding today, paying tribute to those who paid a heavy price for their commitment to it.
Some 15,000 members have been detained since 2015, 6,000 of whom were jailed.
More than 200 elected officials and seven MPs remain behind bars, including former party co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag.
At least 53 of the 65 municipalities won by the HDP in last year’s local elections have been taken over by government-appointed trustees, while many of the elected mayors have been jailed.
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