Cologne (MEE) – German police shut down a tense demonstration in Cologne on Saturday after about 15,000 Kurds took to the streets to protest against Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria.
Police said they dispersed the march due to the presence of banners in the crowd displaying symbols of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which are prohibited in Germany.
The protest was organized by NAV-DEM, a Kurdish association deemed close to the outlawed PKK, which is blacklisted by Ankara and its Western allies as a terror group.
“A number of protesters held banned placards bearing the image of [jailed PKK leader] Abdullah Ocalan,” a local police spokesman told AFP. Other marchers refused to reveal their concealed faces, he added.
Two people were arrested at the demonstration, which came a week after Turkish special forces and allied Syrian rebels launched an assault targeting Kurdish militia the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria.
— AFP news agency (@AFP) January 27, 2018
The atmosphere was already strained when the protest began mid-morning in the western German city, with more than 2,000 police officers mobilised.
“Freedom for Kurdistan” and “Shame on you, Europe!” read some of the protesters’ placards.
Police stopped the march near its halfway point over the PKK symbols and escorted the procession back to where it began.
No incidents were immediately reported, but “the situation remains very tense,” said a police spokesman, who added he was concerned about clashes between protesters and police – or Turkish nationalists – at dusk.
Germany is home to about one million Kurds and three million people of Turkish origin, and authorities have warned against tensions between two communities.
Scuffles have erupted between members of the two groups since Turkey launched its “Operation Olive Branch,” with several Turkish mosques in Germany hit by acts of vandalism.
“Turkey has launched a war of aggression that breaches international law,” Kurdish community co-leader Mehmet Tanriverdi told regional newspaper Heilbronner Stimme on Saturday.
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Often described as the world’s largest people without a state, Kurds have been a key ally in the fight against the Islamic State group, but after the latest Turkish offensive many looking for payback have been left bitterly disappointed.
There were also smaller pro-Kurdish demonstrations in France on Saturday, with several hundred marching in Paris and around 500 in Marseille.
This post was originally written for and published by Middle East Eye.