ANKARA, (Reuters) – Turkey’s Constitutional Court agreed on Friday to consider a request from state prosecutors to shut down a pro-Kurdish political party, in a move that could damage Ankara’s troubled European Union bid.
State prosecutors want to shut down the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), which has 20 members of parliament, over what they say are its close ties with Kurdish separatist guerrillas and its calls for autonomy for Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast region. “We have discussed the request of the chief prosecutor (of the appeals court) and we have decided to accept the indictment,” said Osman Paksut, acting chairman of the Constitutional Court.
The trial process will begin after the DTP has been formally notified of the court decision, Paksut said, adding that the court would provide more details later about what measures might be taken against the party.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling centre-right AK Party have said they are not in favour of closing down political parties, a step which would run against the spirit of liberal reforms linked to Ankara’s EU membership drive.
Turkish courts have shut down several predecessors of the DTP over the past two decades after ruling they had supported terrorism and endangered national unity and security.
EU officials have urged Ankara not to shut down the DTP but have also said that party must distance itself from militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who are battling Turkish security forces in southeast Turkey.
Analysts said closing the DTP could stoke new tension in southeast Turkey and undermine government efforts to attract more investment to the impoverished region. “The government needs to maintain a dialogue with the Kurdish political leadership. The DTP may not have made this easy but it is important to keep a dialogue open,” said William Hale, a professor at Istanbul’s Sabanci University. “Secondly, any closure would almost certainly spark criticism from the EU and the Council of Europe, strengthening the argument of those in western Europe opposed in principle to Turkish EU membership,” Hale added.
Turkey began EU accession talks in 2005 but negotiations are moving slowly amid disputes over Cyprus and human rights. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are opposed to ever admitting the large Muslim country.
Shutting down the DTP would not affect the status of the party’s 20 MPs, who could revert to sitting in the Turkish parliament as independents or regroup under a new name. But several DTP lawmakers are under investigation over recent comments they have made and Turkish media say prosecutors may ask for their parliamentary immunity to be lifted.
Hale said new rules made it harder than in the past to shut down a party. Erdogan, whose own AK Party is a successor to parties banned in the past, may try to make the legal process for such a move still more difficult.
DTP lawmakers have infuriated many Turks by refusing to condemn the PKK as a terrorist organisation. The EU and the United States, like Turkey, view the PKK as a terrorist group.
Turkey has massed up to 100,000 troops, backed up by tanks, artillery and warplanes, near its mountainous border with Iraq in preparation for a possible incursion to crush an estimated 3,000 PKK rebels who use the mainly Kurdish region as a base.
Nearly 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK launched its armed insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984.