Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party said it was pulling out of parliament after nine of its MPs including the two co-leaders were arrested in an unprecedented crackdown. The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the third-largest party in this legislature, said it would no longer be taking part in general sessions of parliament or commission work. The arrest on Friday of the MPs, including party leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, added to tensions as Turkey wages a relentless battle against Kurdish militants and deals with the aftermath of a July 15 failed coup.
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They have been charged with membership and promotion of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The move also compounded concerns among Turkey’s Western allies that the state of emergency imposed after the coup bid is being used for a general crackdown against critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and not just the suspected plotters.
Sunday, an Istanbul court ordered the jailing pending trial of nine executives and editorial staff from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper. Some 35,000 people have been arrested after the coup bid, which Ankara blames on the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, while tens of thousands more have been fired from their jobs.
The latest arrests of the HDP MPs prompted the Turkish authorities to restrict access to social media and VPN applications and also led to more heavy losses for the embattled Turkish lira. In his first reaction to the arrests, Erdogan described the HDP as the parliamentary “branch” of the PKK and said it made him “smile a lot” to see the charismatic Demirtas compared to US President Barack Obama in Western media.
“It’s very easy to to see their true faces,” Erdogan said in a televised speech. The HDP has always denied being a front from the PKK, which has waged an over three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state in search of greater rights and autonomy for the Kurdish minority.
The HDP said instead of sitting in parliament, its remaining MPs who are not under arrest will go from “house to house, village to village and district to district” to meet people and decide future strategy.
The HDP has 59 seats in parliament and their absence could enable Erdogan to push through his vision of a presidential system which the HDP has always vehemently opposed.