President Erdogan has been accused of cracking down on opposition parties linked to the PKK to build support ahead of elections.
Turkish police arrested 110 people on suspicion of ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) weeks before a crucial election, with reports that politicians, lawyers and journalists were detained in the raids.
Authorities said Tuesday that the detainees were suspected of funding the PKK, which Turkey and several Western countries consider a “terrorist” organization, in addition to recruiting members or promoting propaganda on behalf of the group.
The PKK has been at war with the Turkish government since 1984.
Turkish media reported Tuesday’s raids took place in 21 provinces, including the Kurdish-majority southeastern Diyarbakir province.
The attacks came weeks before parliamentary and presidential elections on May 14, the harshest in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s two-year rule of Turkey challenge.
Tayip Temel, the deputy leader of the country’s pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), directly linked the arrests to Erdogan’s bid for a third term as president.
“On the eve of the election, the government has again detained for fear of losing power,” he tweeted.
Politicians, journalists, lawyers and human rights activists were targeted in the raids, details of which remain under wraps, Temer and several other sources said.
The Diyarbakir Bar Association said on Twitter that lawyers were barred from contacting their clients for 24 hours and said the number of people detained could still rise.
The Turkish nonprofit Media and Legal Studies Association (MLSA) said NGO leaders were also among those searched early in the morning.
Erdogan has found the toughest electoral test of his two decades in power in opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Opinion polls show him with a slight lead over the long-time Turkey leader.
The HDP expanded its tacit support for Kilicdaroglu by deciding not to field its own candidate in the presidential race. The HDP is not part of the main opposition coalition but strongly opposes Erdogan’s policies towards the party and the PKK. The Turkish government has accused the PKK of ties to the PKK, and its former leader, Selahattin Demirtas, has been jailed after being found guilty in multiple cases, including threatening officials and insulting the president.
Erdogan’s support has taken a major hit in recent years amid a sluggish economy and accusations of authoritarianism. He has also been criticized for his response to a devastating earthquake in February that killed 50,000 people and destroyed thousands of homes.
Erdogan, who has been Turkey’s leader since 2003 and the presidency since 2014, still maintains significant support and could rise to the top with his AK Party.