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Police detain nearly 200 in Turkey for opposing offensive in northern Syria

Two leaders of the HDP party are under investigation for making critical comments about the latest Turkish operation in Syria
186 people have been held for making comments online since the start of Turkey's operation against Syrian Kurdish fighters (AFP)

Nearly 200 people have been detained in Turkey for posting comments on social media critical of the country's military offensive in Syria, according to reports.

Some 186 people have been detained in raids coordinated by a cyber security unit within the interior ministry since the start of an operation on 9 October against Kurdish militants in northeastern Syria, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.

Of those detained, 24 have been formally arrested and 78 released. Another 40 have been freed under judicial control, with the rest facing ongoing legal proceedings.

Cases were also opened against Sezai Temelli and Pervin Buldan, two co-presidents of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), for their criticism of the offensive. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long accused HDP of having ties to the PKK, an allegation the HDP denies.

Four Kurdish mayors affiliated with the HDP were detained on Tuesday over alleged “terrorism links”, Anadolu reported, although it remained unclear whether their arrests were related to comments on the offensive, which has widespread support at home but has been widely denounced by the international community.

Ankara launched Operation "Peace Spring" last week against what it described as “terrorist” elements close to the Turkey-Syria border, with the stated aim of establishing a buffer zone where it would resettle millions of Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey.

Northeastern Syria had been under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which was a key actor in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria.

But Ankara views the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which forms the backbone of the SDF, as an extension of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) banned in Turkey.

Turkish authorities have launched similar investigations in the past in the wake of its two previous operations in Syria. More than 300 people were arrested for social media posts critical of Turkey’s offensive in Afrin, northern Syria, in January 2018.

At least 70 civilians, 135 Kurdish-led SDF fighters and 120 Turkey-allied Syrian fighters have been killed in the region since the offensive began, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday.