Syria war: Turkey arrests hundreds for criticising Afrin offensive

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Image source, Reuters
Image caption, Kurdish activists say dozens of civilians have been killed in Turkey's offensive in Afrin

More than 300 people have been arrested in Turkey after posting messages online criticising the country's military offensive across the border in Syria.

The messages condemning the Turkish military operation to push a Kurdish militia out of Syria's northern region of Afrin were posted on social media.

The users were detained for spreading "terror propaganda", officials said.

Turkish authorities warned they would prosecute individuals opposing or criticising the Afrin offensive.

On Monday, Turkey's interior ministry said that a total of 311 people had been held for "spreading terrorist propaganda" since the operation began 10 days ago.

Detainees, it added, included politicians, journalists and activists.

It comes after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) over an anti-war message.

Mr Erdogan said that doctors from the medical association were "filth" and "terrorist lovers" after they had warned that Turkey's military operation could turn into a humanitarian tragedy.

The Turkish president added that such comments were a "betrayal", and referred to members of the association as "agents of imperialism".

He was referring to comments last week in which the TTB denounced the cross-border operation, calling for "peace immediately".

The association later said it had a responsibility to speak out, adding that remarks by senior government officials had made it a target of attacks.

The interior ministry said it had opened an investigation into the actions of the TTB.

Kurdish activists say dozens of civilians have been killed in Turkey's air strikes and shelling since it launched its air and ground offensive against the People's Protection Units (YPG) in the north-western border region of Afrin.

Ankara has said that such claims are baseless propaganda.

An estimated 5,000 people have been displaced by clashes between Turkish-led forces and Kurdish fighters, the UN has said.

Mr Erdogan has vowed to "crush" the YPG militia, which controls Afrin and more than 400km (250 miles) of Syria's northern border.

Turkey says that the YPG is an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in south-eastern Turkey for three decades.

The YPG denies any direct organisational links to the PKK - an assertion backed by the US, which has provided the militia and allied Arab fighters with weapons and air support to help them battle the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

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