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Turkey arrests 2 more pro-Kurdish MPs ahead of referendum

This file photo shows the co-chairman of Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas. (Photo by AFP)

Turkish authorities have detained two lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) in the latest move against party members ahead of a referendum on constitutional amendment.

The HDP's official spokesman Ayhan Bilgen and another lawmaker representing the eastern province of Kars were taken into custody on Tuesday by a court order before a trial following his arrest by police on Sunday at an Ankara airport, after which he was transferred to the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir in the country's southeast, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

According to the report, Bilgen was detained and held on charges of "membership in an armed terror organization."

The other prominent HDP lawmaker, identified as the party's legal expert Meral Danis Bestas, was also taken into custody after being initially arrested at her residence in Diyarbakir.

The party described the arrests in a statement as a bid to prevent the HDP from campaigning against constitutional changes sought by embattled President Recep Tayyip Erdogan following a coup attempt last July and terrorist attacks across the country. The changes are expected to dramatically expand his powers after a referendum planned for April.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo by AFP)

"The arrest of our party spokesman Ayhan Bilgen is to block our referendum work but you cannot turn down the volume of 'NO,'" the HDP declared in a message on its official Twitter account.

The latest detentions increased the number of HDP legislators taken captive on terror charges to 12, including the party's co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag.

Bilgen had become the public face of the HDP following the imprisonment of the two co-chairs. The party holds 59 seats in the 550-seat Turkish parliament.

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Turkish prosecutors are demanding a prison term of up to 142 years for Demirtas on alleged charges of ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Demirtas and other Kurdish legislators, however, have denied any links to the PKK, listed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies, and censured the case as political.

In a related development, Turkish police arrested a member of the secular opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Sera Kadigil, on allegations of "insulting the president, publicly denigrating religious values and inciting hatred," through a series of social media posts.

CHP lawmaker Baris Yarkadas, who appeared at an Istanbul courthouse in support of the party member, also argued that her detention was timed to coincide with the referendum campaign, pointing out that the tweets in question dated back to 2015.

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