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Turkey releases doctors held for denouncing Afrin operation

The Turkish Medical Association described Turkey's Afrin operation as a 'man-made public health problem'
Eight Turkish doctors who condemned Turkey's Afrin operation were released on Monday (AFP)

Senior officials from Turkey's medical association, including its chief, were freed after being detained for condemning Ankara's military operation against Kurdish militias in northern Syria.

Turkey launched operation "Olive Branch" on 20 January to support Syrian rebels with ground troops and air strikes against the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in its western enclave of Afrin.

Ankara views the YPG as a "terrorist" offshoot of outlawed Kurdish militants in Turkey.

Turkish authorities last week detained all 11 members of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) central council for a statement which said that "war is a man-made public health problem" and called for peace.

On Friday, three members were released under observation.

A TTB official told AFP the remaining eight, including the TTB head Rasit Tukel, were released under the same conditions on Monday after giving statements to an Ankara prosecutor.

The TTB had said that conflicts lead to "irreparable problems" and ended its declaration with the words: "No to war, peace right now".

The association has over 83,000 members representing 80 percent of Turkey's doctors.

Authorities launched an investigation into the TTB last week. The members are accused of "propaganda for a terrorist organisation" and "inciting hatred and hostility".

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan previously hit out at the body, saying: "They are not intellectuals, they are a gang of unthinking slaves."

He had called for national unity and warned those who responded to calls for protests would pay a "heavy price".

'No war, peace now'

Last week co-founder of Ankara-based gay rights group Kaos GL Ali Erol was among 13 detained for supporting the TTB, according to local media.

On Monday, civil society groups and trade unions in the Kurdish-majority southeastern city of Diyarbakir expressed solidarity with the TTB.

"No war, peace now! We, as components of democratic forces and representing unions... from Diyarbakir, sign the declaration," Dogan Hatun, president of the local chapter of the Chamber of Mining Engineers, said reading the TTB-drafted statement.

The TTB statement was also supported by two other unions.

Abbas Sahin, head of the Diyarbakir branch of leading education union Egitim Sen, said the conflict would "cause very serious difficulties between peoples."

Earlier on Monday, the interior ministry said 449 people had been detained since the offensive for "terror propaganda" on social media.

Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin last week warned the Turkish public and media to be wary of "lying, fake, distortive and provocative news, images and gossip".

Over 170 former ministers, actors and writers signed a letter last week, calling for an end to the war.

The letter was sent to all of Turkey's MPs including those from Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Erdogan, however, called the signatories "traitors".

Another 124 people were taken into custody for taking part in protests since the operation was launched, the ministry added.