Turkey eyes new police powers after pro-Kurdish protests

The Turkish government on Wednesday presented a bill granting greater powers to the security forces after dozens of people died in a wave of Kurdish-led protests, with the opposition accusing the authorities of creating a "police state". 

AFP| Last Updated: Oct 15, 2014, 18:34 PM IST

Istanbul: The Turkish government on Wednesday presented a bill granting greater powers to the security forces after dozens of people died in a wave of Kurdish-led protests, with the opposition accusing the authorities of creating a "police state". 

The "homeland security reform" bill was submitted to parliament`s justice commission by the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), a parliamentary source told AFP. 

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said this week the legislation would "give the upper hand to the police" in the face of "widespread violence" and "more space to resort to new tools and measures". 

At least 34 people were killed and 360 wounded, including police, earlier this month when Kurds took to streets over Turkey`s lack of support for the mainly-Kurdish Syrian border town of Kobane, which is under attack from Islamic State (IS) jihadists. 

Over 1,000 people were detained for their involvement in the protests which caused damage to hundreds of public buildings. 

The bill also calls for stricter punishment for offenders damaging public property and wearing masks to conceal their identity, Turkish media reported. 

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday bluntly warned the protesters against destroying water cannon trucks, a favourite tool of Turkish police in dispersing protests.

"We will buy five or 10 TOMAs for each TOMA destroyed," using the Turkish acronym for the water cannon trucks. 

Opposition lawmakers denounced the new measures, saying they would turn Turkey into a police state.

"This is like throwing gasoline on a fire... at a time when so many children are being killed by police on the streets," said pro-Kurdish lawmaker Idris Baluken of the People`s Democratic Party (HDP). 

"From now on, the police will resort to not only using shields but also guns, with an authority to kill." 

Ozcan Yeniceri, an MP from Nationalist Action Party (MHP) added: "Police will do whatever they want, as if a martial law has been imposed. Turkey will become a police state." 

But Numan Kurtulmus, another deputy prime minister, brushed off the criticism on Wednesday.

"After taking so many decisive steps towards democracy for years, Turkey cannot take any steps toward becoming a police state again," he said. 

A brutal police crackdown against anti-government protesters that sparked a nationwide protests unrest last year left eight people dead and thousands injured. 

The heavy-handed tactics used by Turkish police, who frequently resort to tear gas and water cannon, have drawn widespread criticism from rights groups at home and abroad.