Turkey Halts Activities of 370 Groups as Purge Widens

About 20,000 protesters demonstrated Saturday in the western German city of Cologne against the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Pro-Kurdish  demonstrators protest  against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the political repression that followed July's failed military coup,  in Cologne, Germany Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.
AP / Martin Meissner

Turkey has halted the activities of 370 non-governmental groups including human rights and children's organizations over their alleged terrorist links, the government said as it widens purges following a failed coup in July.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus defended the ban on the activities of the NGOs operating across the country, which was announced by the Interior Ministry late on Friday.
 
"The organisations are not shut down, they are being suspended. There is strong evidence that they are linked to terrorist organisations," Kurtulmus said.

"Turkey has to fight terrorism on so many different fronts. We are trying to clear the state institutions from Gulenists. At the same time we are fighting against Kurdish militants and Islamic State," Kurtulmus told reporters on Saturday.

More than 110,000 people have been sacked or suspended from their jobs and 37,000 arrested since the failed putsch for suspected links to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the plot. He denies the accusations.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan calls the exiled cleric's network the "Gulenist Terror Organization" and says the unprecedented crackdown is crucial to rid state institutions of infiltrators seeking to topple the government.

Of the 370 associations affected by Friday's ban, 153 were allegedly linked to the Gulen movement, 190 to the Kurdish militant group PKK, 19 to the far-leftist militant group DHKP-C, and eight to Islamic State, the interior ministry said.

It added that investigations into the groups were continuing and pledged "determination to fight all kinds of structures, groups and institutions with links to terror organizations."

Among the groups affected were bodies representing lawyers and the Union of Turkish Bar Associations vowed to "take a stand against any unlawful intervention on legal firms."

"It's impossible for us to find the closure or activity cessation of organizations without court rulings democratic," it added in a statement.

The scale of the purges has alarmed Turkey's Western allies and foreign investors.

Human rights groups and opposition parties say Erdogan, who traces his political roots to a banned Islamist party, is using the coup as a pretext to muzzle all dissent in the European Union-candidate nation.

20,000 anti-Turkish government protesters demonstrate in Cologne

Meanwhile on Saturday, in the western German city of Cologne, about 20,000 protesters demonstrated against the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The rally in an industrial area along the Rhine River brought together pro-Kurdish demonstrators and members of the Alevi religious minority protesting Erdogan's crackdown after a failed coup attempt in Turkey this summer.

A group of about 200 to 300 Kurdish youth broke away from the main protest and several were taken into custody after throwing stones and bottles at police, authorities said. One police officer was slightly injured.

Police say many of the youth were wearing masks, and some were displaying banned symbols of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

Erdogan's government recently ordered the arrest of nine lawmakers of the pro-Kurdish HDP party, which it accuses of acting as the political wing of the outlawed PKK — an allegation the HDP rejects.

The PKK has waged a three-decades-long insurgency against the state, and Erdogan has blamed countries in Europe for supporting and arming the group.