European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini 2016 davos. Photo: Courtesy/European External Action Service

ISTANBUL,— Top European Union officials have voiced concern over the detention of two leading Kurdish political figures in the largest Kurdish city in Turkey’s southeast.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a statement Wednesday that Turkey must respect rule of law as it deals with the security threat posed by Kurdish militants. “A political solution is the only viable option,” the statement said.

Diyarbakir mayor Gultan Kisanak and Firat Anli, who serves as co-mayor, were detained Tuesday as part of a terrorism investigation. They are members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP.

The government accuses the HDP of being the political wing of the Kurdish militant group Kurdistan Workers’ Party PKK. The party denies the accusation.

The HDP has called for protests to denounce the detentions but the Diyarbakir governor’s office said the demonstration will not be allowed.

In September, 24 mayors suspected of links to the PKK were suspended and replaced with officials close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) co-founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Since July 2015, Turkey initiated a controversial military campaign against the PKK in the country’s southeastern Kurdish region after Ankara ended a two-year ceasefire agreement. Since the beginning of the campaign, Ankara has imposed several round-the-clock curfews, preventing civilians from fleeing regions where the military operations are being conducted.

Observers say the crackdown has taken a heavy toll on the Kurdish civilian population and accuse Turkey of using collective punishment against the minority.

Activists have accused the security forces of causing huge destruction to urban centres and killing Kurdish civilians. But the government says the operations are essential for public safety, blaming the PKK for the damage.

The PKK took up arms in 1984 against the Turkish state, which still denies the constitutional existence of Kurds, to push for greater autonomy for the Kurdish minority who make up around 22.5 million of the country’s 78-million population. A large Kurdish community in Turkey and worldwide openly sympathise with PKK rebels.

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