Turkish riot police have blocked a delegation of pro-Kurdish politicians from marching to the southeastern town of Cizre, where government officials said at least 30 people have been killed since a large-scale security operation began last week.
Members of the Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP), including co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag and several other lawmakers, attempted to reach Cizre by road on Wednesday after a police and military crackdown on the town. Two cabinet ministers in Turkey's interim government ahead of November 1 snap elections were also amongst the group.
Their convoy was stopped by police and part of the delegation split off and continued on foot from Idil, around 17 miles from Cizre, in the early hours of Thursday morning, HDP honorary president and delegation member Ertugrul Kurkcu told VICE News.
Security forces, including police and Gendarmerie units, quickly intercepted the march, Kurkcu said, and after a period forced them back to Idil. Pictures tweeted by journalist Fuat Yasar and HDP MP Garo Paylan showed police with riot shields and gas masks blocking the suit-wearing politicians from passing.
Cizre has been subject to a 24-hour curfew since last Friday after a massive operation was launched to regain control of the town from the urban wing of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). When VICE News visited the town in August, local residents had constructed a series of trenches and barricades designed to keep out security forces, and combat a sweeping program of arrests. Armed youths patrolled the streets at night, often clashing with police.
Interior Minister Selam Altinok announced today that at least 30 people had been killed in Cizre over the past week. Altinok said the dead were mostly militants, but a number of civilians are also reported to be among the victims. Kurkcu also said that HDP sources indicated that eight people had been reported dead on Wednesday night, including a mother, whose child was also badly wounded.
Kurkcu added that the electricity network has also been badly damaged with the only power coming from mobile generators. As a result, he said, the water system was not working as it should, leading to hygiene problems.
Phone signals are also said to have been cut, while the BBC reported that the family of a 10-year-old boy killed in the fighting were keeping his remains in a fridge because they were unable to reach the mortuary.
Violence between the PKK and Turkish security forces has killed hundreds since a ceasefire collapsed in July. Accurate coverage of the situation is difficult, however, as Kurdish news sites and Twitter accounts have been closed since hostilities began, while Turkish journalists reporting from the majority-Kurdish southeast have been fired.
Foreign journalists have found things increasingly difficult too. Three VICE News journalists were arrested in Diyarbakir and charged with supporting a terrorist group. Two were then deported, while their Iraqi colleague Mohammed Ismael Rasool remains in a Adana prison.
Dutch journalist Frederike Geerdink was detained by police on Saturday in Yuksekova along with a number of Kurdish activists and has since been deported.
Kurkcu said that blocking the HDP delegation from reaching the town was also aimed at avoiding scrutiny. "They don't want any interference in whatever they are doing in CIzre, or to bring fresh interest into the massacre in the town… With our approach to the city, they have accelerated their plans and they want to remove the peoples' control on the district level and don't want any outside interests or witness to what they are doing."
The latest round of violence in Turkey began after the PKK killed two police officers in retaliation for a July 20 suicide bombing in the border town of Suruc that left 33 pro-Kurdish activists dead. The attacker was trained by the so-called Islamic State (IS), but Kurds blamed the security forces for laxity or collusion, and claimed the murdered officers had been working with the jihadists.
Fighting has since intensified, in a return to a 30-year struggle between the PKK and state that claimed more than 40,000 lives before a landmark 2013 ceasefire agreement that granted more rights to a population long subject to restrictions on use of its own language and cultural practices.
It also comes after Turkey's June 7 general election, which saw the HDP exceed the 10 percent vote threshold required to secure a parliamentary presence for the first time. This blocked President Tayyip Erdogan's ambitions of securing a "super majority" for his Justice and Development AKP, which would in turn allow him to alter the constitution and vastly expand his own powers.
Since the airstrikes, the president has also called for members of the HDP to be stripped of parliamentary immunity, accusing them, and the HDP of links with the PKK.
Prosecutors in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the southeast, said Wednesday they would investigate HDP head Demirtas on charges of terrorist propaganda, inciting criminal activity, and insulting the state and president. They also requested that his parliamentary immunity be rescinded. The same pretext has been used to shut down a number of Kurdish parties in the past.