ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) — Turkish police used tear gas and water cannon on Sunday to disperse thousands of Kurdish protesters demonstrating against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to Turkish media reports.
Erdogan is visiting Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast, hoping to drum up support for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) ahead of upcoming nationwide local elections.
Turkey’s southwest is largely controlled by the Kurdish nationalist Democratic Society Party (DTP) but Erdogan’s AKP performed strongly in the region during the July 2007 general election.
It is unclear whether DTP will be able to participate in the upcoming local elections in March, which will decide local councils and mayorships across Turkey.
The country’s public prosecutor is asking the constitutional court to shut down the Kurdish party on charges of fomenting separatism — which could lead to the expulsion of eight DTP ministers.
DTP has ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — a separatist faction with rebels based in northern Iraq that has been fighting for self-rule in southeastern Turkey.
Erdogan’s own party narrowly avoided being shut down by the constitutional court, earlier this year, although the AKP was convicted of violating Turkey’s secular constitution.
Sunday’s demonstration happened in the remote town of Yuksekova — in Hakkari province along Turkey’s border with Iran and Iraq — in front of the DTP’s headquarters, Turkish media reported.
It is the second day of sporadic protests against Erdogan in the Kurdish dominated region.
An explosion struck AKP’s provincial headquarters in the town of Hakkari on Saturday, injuring two people, according to Zaman Newspaper. Also, police on Saturday clashed with stone-throwing demonstrators in Van, two blocks away from where Erdogan addressed a crowd of supporters, according to Turkey’s Anatolian news agency.
Demonstrations also continue throughout the region in praise of the outlawed PKK and its imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan.
Ocalan was tried and convicted on charges of treason in 1999. The Turkish government has staunchly denied recent claims that Ocalan has been physically abused while he is in solitary confinement on the prison island of Imrali.
There have been sit down protests in the center of Diyarbakir — the main city in Turkey’s Kurdish region. Police in Istanbul are on high alert on Sunday amid possible protest plans in the main Taksim Square, according to Turkish media.
Some commentators see the renewed protests as an attempt — possibly by the PKK — to polarize opinion ahead of the local elections.