ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish authorities on Friday detained 12 pro-Kurdish members of Parliament for questioning in terror-related probes, drawing expressions of concern from Europe and the U.S., while a car bomb attack in the largest Kurdish city, reportedly claimed by Kurdish militants, killed nine people.
Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, the co-chairs of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, or HDP, were among those rounded up in the early hours. They were later ordered held in custody pending trial on terror-related charges along with six other legislators. The courts meanwhile, released three other lawmakers on condition that they report regularly to authorities.
The detentions provoked worried reactions from outside Turkey. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, expressed concern on Twitter, saying the EU was in contact with authorities and adding that she had called a meeting of EU ambassadors in Ankara.
Tom Malinowski, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, tweeted that he was "deeply troubled" by the detentions, adding: "When taking legal action against elected reps, democracies have higher duty to justify actions & preserve confidence in justice."
Hours after the arrests, there was a large explosion in the city of Diyarbakir, near the riot police building. Two police officers and seven civilians were killed, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said up to 100 people were wounded, though most were released after treatment.
Yildirim also said one of the assailants was "caught dead," but did not provide details.
The Diyarbakir governor's office said the PKK, claimed the attack, which Anadolu said was carried out with a minibus laden with a ton of explosives.
The blast caused a large crater near the police building and damaged several buildings and businesses nearby. Television footage showed people walking among glass and other debris near buildings with windows blown out. Authorities imposed a temporary news blackout after the explosion, barring reports that could lead to public "fear, panic or chaos" and images showing the explosion and its aftermath.
Turkey has been plagued by a series of deadly bomb attacks in the past 18 months, carried out by Kurdish militants or Islamic State group extremists.
The PKK has waged a three-decade-long insurgency against the Turkish state and is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its allies. A fragile cease-fire collapsed in 2015 and at least 700 state security personnel and thousands of Kurdish militants have been killed since then, according to Anadolu.
It was not immediately known if the attack was in direct response to the legislators' detentions.
Officials said the lawmakers were detained for not appearing in court to testify in ongoing terrorism-related investigations. The government accuses the HDP — the third largest party in Turkey's parliament representing millions of Kurds — of being the political arm of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, an accusation the party rejects.
An Interior Ministry statement said a total of 15 detention warrants were issued by the chief public prosecutors in five mainly Kurdish provinces. Two of the legislators were determined to be abroad, and authorities are still searching for one.
"The kind of detentions of democratically elected members of parliament we are seeing in Turkey today is an assault on the right to political representation and participation for millions of voters and defies fundamental principles of any country that claims to be democratic and based on rule of law and human rights," said Human Rights Watch's Turkey director, Emma Sinclair-Webb.
HDP lawmaker Adem Geveri described the detentions as a "political genocide operation," telling The Associated Press that they "officially put an end to the functioning of Parliament in an anti-democratic and unlawful way."
"Now with the HDP removed from the political equation, they will go to an early election and establish an authoritarian Turkey without the HDP, without any democratic opposition," Geveri added.
Main opposition Republican People's Party Chair Kemal Kilicdaroglu denounced the detentions, "If you defend democracy, then you defend that those who came with elections should go with elections. Otherwise you'll butcher democracy in Turkey."
Yildirim responded: "If they are elected but go hand in hand with terrorism, they of course need to be made to account."
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior government officials have repeatedly called for the prosecution of pro-Kurdish lawmakers on terrorism-related charges, which was made possible after legal immunities protecting legislators from prosecution were lifted in May.
Hundreds of charges were filed against HDP lawmakers following the lifting of immunity, including "disseminating terrorist propaganda" and "membership in an armed terrorist organization."
Demirtas reacted to the lifting of immunity by saying none of his fellow party members would voluntarily appear in court to testify.
In explaining why the parliamentarians refused to testify in the first place, HDP lawmaker Garo Paylan explained to The Associated Press that if there had been a free judiciary they would have easily gone. "There is no free judiciary, that is why we don't want to go," he said. "They say if you don't obey Tayyip Erdogan, if you don't obey the ideology that is going on, a fascist ideology, you are a terrorist."
Also on Friday, Internet users nationwide complained about restricted access to various social media and messaging apps, including Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and Skype.
The TurkeyBlocks monitoring network confirmed the restricted access, saying its probes have identified "throttling at the ISP level as the source of the slowdowns, with the majority of internet users affected at the time of measurement."
Rights activists say restricting access to the internet is aimed at preventing calls for demonstrations.
Prime Minister Yildirim said: "Occasionally one might have to resort to such precautions for the sake of security. as a precaution. Once the danger is gone, everything will return to normal."
U.S. official Malinowski tweeted that press freedom and internet access are essential to democratic and economic health, and urged Turkey "to restore information access to its citizens now."