ANKARA, (Reuters) – A top Turkish state prosecutor launched proceedings on Friday to ban the country’s biggest pro-Kurdish party amid tensions over Ankara’s threat to carry out a cross-border crackdown on Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq. His indictment said the Democratic Society Party (DTP) had implemented the orders of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan, spreading PKK propaganda and giving it logistical support.
The DTP, which has 20 members of parliament, last week urged the government to grant autonomy to Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast to resolve the separatist violence which has plagued the region for more than two decades. It was not clear if the indictment referred to the call. “The party’s actions and the statements of its members are contrary to the state’s independence and the indivisible unity of the country and the people,” Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya said in a statement.
Turkey has banned pro-Kurdish parties in the past for links to PKK militants and has also prosecuted people for promoting autonomy for the southeast. The DTP rejects any ties to the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Party officials said they had not been informed of the decision but knew preparations for a case were being made. “Turkey has turned into a graveyard for political parties. It is the people who form a party and it should be the people who close it. This is really an unfortunate situation for Turkey’s democracy,” said DTP deputy Selahattin Demirtas.
Yalcinkaya said the case was opened at the Constitutional Court on Thursday and that the DTP and its members would not be able to take part in elections during the court process. The party has one month to prepare its preliminary defence.
The indictment also called for a five-year ban from politics for 221 DTP members, including eight of the party’s MPs.
Among them were the party’s new chairman, Nurettin Demirtas, and former deputy Leyla Zana, who spent 10 years in prison for links to the Kurdish guerrillas before her release in 2004.
At a party convention in Ankara last week, the DTP approved a declaration calling for autonomy for the southeast – a highly contentious issue.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which is seeking European Union membership, has eased some curbs on Kurdish language and culture, but many Kurds say this is not enough.
Speaking at a conference on a new constitution, Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin said he was not happy to receive news of the court case, Anatolian reported. “A new constitution means a more democratic, more liberal constitution… Of course it is not pleasant that a case to close a political party has been opened when we are assessing Turkey’s future with Turkish intellectuals,” he told reporters.
The DTP won 20 seats in elections in July, the first time supporters of more rights for the large ethnic Kurdish minority have been represented in parliament for more than a decade.
In recent weeks ultra-nationalist groups have attacked its offices and calls for it to denounce the PKK as terrorists have intensified. Many Turks remain deeply suspicious of the DTP and believe it is just a mouthpiece of the guerrillas. The PKK launched an armed insurgency in 1984 with the aim of creating a Kurdish homeland in southeast Turkey and nearly 40,000 people have died in the conflict.
Turkey has said it plans to launch a cross-border operation to deal with PKK militants using northern Iraq as a base. The head of the land forces, General Ilker Basbug, said on Thursday Turkey was “in the process of implementing” an operation against the militants in Iraq. But there were no immediate signs of increased military activity along the border.