(Diyarbakir) More than 100 people were arrested in Turkey on Tuesday as part of an “anti-terrorist” operation targeting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), denounced as an “attempt to intimidate” three weeks from elections.

The operation, carried out simultaneously by the police in 21 provinces of the country, including that of Diyarbakir (south-east) with a Kurdish majority, is unprecedented in its scale, according to the Diyarbakir Bar Association contacted by AFP.

The Bar Association estimates that “the total number of arrests could reach 150”, including at least “about 20 lawyers, five journalists, three theater actors and a politician”.

The police announced 110 arrests, the private television channel NTV 126.

Lawyers have been banned from all contact with their clients for 24 hours, the bar association said.

The NGO Reporters Without Borders for its part counted “11 journalists arrested”, including the heads of the Kurdish news agency Mesopotamia and those of several publications.

Several dozen people gathered in the afternoon in the streets of Diyarbakir, blocked by riot police, shouting “Revolt against fascism”, to protest against these arrests, giving rise to some scuffles , noted an AFP correspondent.

The president of the Diyarbakir Bar Association, Nahit Eren, denounced in a press release “an attempt to intimidate Kurdish voters”.

“We cannot say that this is an independent operation disconnected from the political agenda of the country. The operation appears to be an intimidation of Kurdish voters” in the run-up to the presidential and legislative elections, he said.

According to the public television channel TRT, those arrested are suspected of having financed the PKK, classified by Ankara and its Western allies as a terrorist organization and banned in the country, or of having recruited new members.

Suspects allegedly transferred money to the PKK through companies operating from municipalities run by Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the channel claims.

“The homes of many people, including journalists, lawyers and NGO leaders, were raided in the early hours of the morning,” said freedom NGO MLSA.

The HDP, whose 2018 presidential candidate finished third with 8.4% of the votes cast, is considered the kingmaker of the May 14 election, which promises to be disputed.

In a statement, the party denounced “an operation to steal the ballot boxes and the will of the people” and referred to the government’s “panic” as the election approached.

The presidential and legislative elections to be held next month in Turkey will be decisive for the maintenance, or not, of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP party, in power for two decades.

The opposition presents a united front of six parties which have nominated a single presidential candidate, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, to whom the HDP has given its support.

The HDP is the third political force in the country and the second opposition party in Parliament. Its co-president and main figure, Selahattin Demirtas, has been in prison since 2016 for “terrorist propaganda”.

“They will not be able to prevent the advent of peace, prosperity and democracy”, he launched from his Twitter account.

The HDP is also under threat of closure, demanded in January before the Turkish Constitutional Court by a prosecutor who accused it of being linked “organically” to the PKK.