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Turkey detains, expels Spanish lawmakers observing elections

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A diplomatic incident unfolded as Turkish police detained and later expelled 10 Spanish citizens, including two members of parliament and one senate member who came to Turkey to observe the country’s parliamentary and presidential elections on Sunday, the Spanish El Pais daily and The Intercept news website reported.

Sunday’s election, the closest that incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has faced in his two decades in power, was quickly criticized for irregularities by supporters of the opposition coalition led by Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

Despite falling short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff, Erdoğan won 49.5 percent of the vote. A runoff is scheduled for May 28.

The group had reportedly been invited to observe the elections in the Kurdish-majority city of Siirt by the pro-Kurdish Green Left Party (YSP), which ran in the election in place of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) due to a closure case at the country’s Constitutional Court that would potentially dissolve the party and bar its members from politics.

The Spanish observers, who included members of the left-leaning Podemos party, EH Bildu, a Basque nationalist coalition and a senator from Esquerra Republicana, a Catalonian leftist party, were in Siirt when they were detained on Sunday. They were held until Monday morning and were released on the condition that they leave the country.

Despite not being officially accredited by Turkish authorities, the Spanish group accompanied the YSP to polling stations without entering them, an action deemed legal by Spanish MP Ismael Cortes. “It’s not illegal, we have done that in previous elections and other countries,” Cortés was quoted as saying.

Cortés, a deputy with Podemos, said the situation they experienced was an example of the greater context of repression and persecution of the opposition in Turkey, particularly against the Kurdish people.

The observers also stated that several members of the Kurdish YSP party were arrested, but their fate is unknown. The government did not respond to requests for comment by The Intercept news website.

The Spanish individuals were reportedly apprehended one by one and taken to the local police station, including those who were at their hotel at the time. They were fingerprinted and asked to sign a deportation order admitting violation of electoral laws, which they refused to do.

The incident sparked immediate reactions from the Spanish Foreign Ministry, which contacted the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to resolve the matter. However, officials at the Turkish Interior Ministry were reportedly less than cooperative.

Tensions rose when a separate police unit arrived and began threatening the Spanish lawmakers with allegations of links to “terrorist organizations” and acts “against national unity,” accusations that carry heavy prison sentences in Turkey.

Ultimately, it was agreed that the Spanish group would be escorted to the Siirt airport and then to İstanbul airport by police, from where they left the country without any legal proceedings initiated against them. The Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs lodged a verbal complaint with Turkish authorities over the treatment of its citizens.

Spain, a close ally of Turkey with important economic ties, is one of the countries that assisted Turkey after devastating earthquakes in February. It is also the only NATO country that still maintains Patriot missiles in the south of Turkey for defense purposes.

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