ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey’s top prosecutor on Thursday filed a case to close the country’s main Kurdish party–just minutes after the constitutional court outlawed a sister party for alleged links to armed rebels.
The legal steps may complicate Turkey’s path to membership of the European Union. They also come amid fears that a war in neighboring Iraq will provoke Kurdish moves for independence and a resurgence of separatist violence in Turkey’s southeast.
Chief prosecutor Sabih Kanadoglu opened the case against the Democratic People’s Party (DEHAP)–alleging that it had "become a focus for actions that contravene the principles of equality–the legal state and the democratic republic.”
Turkey’s constitutional court earlier outlawed the People’s Democracy Party (HADEP)–ruling that it had close links to Kurdish rebels.
HADEP was the latest in a long line of political parties that have been outlawed in Turkey despite criticism from Western allies worried about democracy. Turkey is a NATO member and a candidate for EU membership.
"Political party closures have become the norm but during the democratization process this comes as a big surprise. It is a blow for all of Turkey,” HADEP deputy head Osman Fatih Sanli told Reuters.
Constitutional court chief Judge Mustafa Bumin told reporters the court had found that HADEP had "aided and abetted a terrorist Organisation,” a reference to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
HADEP did not run in November’s general election but placed its weight behind (DEHAP)–which secured wide support among Turkey’s 12 million Kurds but failed to pass the 10 percent voter threshold required to enter parliament.
The two parties have long denied charges of direct links with the PKK–which has fought an armed struggle for Kurdish autonomy or self-rule in southeast Turkey.
"Another political party has been buried in Turkey’s graveyard of parties. When will Turkey not count as a crime the non-violent expression and demonstration of political thought?” asked Turkey’s Human Rights Organisation (IHD).
Turkey–a close ally of the United States–bran’s the PKK a terrorist group and blames it for more than 30,000 deaths in a 16-year armed insurgency. The Turkish state comes down hard on political expression of separatist sentiment.
Ankara says the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington proved its decades-long crackdown on Kurdish separatists was justified.
But historic rival Greece–current holder of the EU revolving presidency–said the decision to ban HADEP would not help Turkey convince Brussels it was ready for membership.
"Turkey as an EU candidate must guarantee the normal and obstacle-free operation of political parties,” Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis said in a statement.
"The decision to ban HADEP will be evaluated by the proper EU institutions–but it is certain that it will negatively affect Turkey’s European route.”
Turkey’s parliament has passed a swathe of EU-inspired rights reforms over the past year but has yet to fully implement many of them–including allowing Kurds to study and broadcast in their mother tongue.
PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan said in a statement on Thursday that Turkey’s new Justice and Development Party (AKP) government–credited by Brussels for its pro-democratic stance–must work harder to fully implement the reforms.
The constitutional court also barred 46 senior HADEP officials from politics for five years–a similar sentence to that imposed on AKP leader Tayyip Erdogan in 1998. Erdogan’s ban has now ended and he is set to become Turkey’s new prime minister later this week.