ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkish authorities on Friday took steps to ban the country’s pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party and expel several of its lawmakers from parliament on charges of separatism.
The Democratic Society Party, which won 20 seats in parliament in July, last week called for autonomy for Kurds living in the country’s southeast. The call came amid tension over how to deal with separatist Kurdish rebels, with the military preparing for a possible cross-border offensive against their bases in northern Iraq.
Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya said in an indictment "that speeches and actions by party leaders have proved that the party has become a focal point of activities against the sovereignty of the state and indivisible unity of the country and the nation."
Yalcinkaya said the party should be prevented from participating in elections during the expected trial period. Local elections are scheduled for March 2008.
Yalcinkaya also asked the Constitutional Court to ban 221 members of the party, including eight lawmakers, from taking part in politics for five years after the closure of the party.
Turkish leaders have accused the pro-Kurdish party of having ties to the PKK. Turkish leaders insist the party should declare the PKK a terrorist organization to prove its allegiance to Turkey. Both the U.S. and the European Union have labeled the PKK a terrorist organization.
"We believe that the policy of lynching a political party should be abandoned," Ahmet Turk, a lawmaker with the party, told Dogan news aqency.
Nurettin Demirtas, the party’s chairman, said the indictment would harm Turkey’s efforts to join the European union, which has pressured the country to grant more rights to its Kurdish minority.
The DTP backs more cultural and political rights for Turkey’s large ethnic Kurdish population but is viewed by most Turks as a mouthpiece for the PKK, a charge it denies.
If the party is disbanded by the Constitutional Court, those eight legislators will be kicked out of the Parliament – despite a warning by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday that excluding Kurdish lawmakers could "push them toward the mountains" and bring them closer to the rebel organization, the daily Sabah reported Friday. "We should especially encourage them to make politics," Sabah quoted Erdogan as saying. "Let them make politics within limits of the constitution."
In an apparent change of tack aimed at ending the border crisis, ruling AK Party members were quoted as saying on Friday that Turkey will not send troops into northern Iraq against the Kurds should the militants disarm.
Turkey has massed up to 100,000 troops near its mountainous border, backed up by tanks, artillery and warplanes, ahead of a possible major cross-border incursion to crush armed groups of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) hiding there.
A top general, Ilker Basbug, said late on Thursday the army was already "in the process of implementing" a cross-border operation, but the region remained quiet on Friday, suggesting any offensive is still only in the preparatory stages.
Many commentators believe Turkey has no real intention of staging a major incursion, but generals and politicians are keen to give an impression that firm action is being taken. An opinion poll published on Friday showed some 81 percent of Turks favor a cross-border operation into Iraq against the PKK.
The lawmakers’ commen’s are the latest sign Prime Minister Recap Tayyip Erdogan is anxious to avoid a risky, large-scale armed intervention that would also upset Washington.
"We say the way to peace and a solution lies with the PKK laying down its weapons… If they lay down their arms, we will not of course have to conduct an operation," senior AK Party lawmaker Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat told the new Taraf daily.
"We will take all the democratization steps from the moment they lay down arms. But we will not discuss anything before they lay down their arms. Arms are the only obstacle in the way of talks and taking steps," said Firat, who is of Kurdish origin.