March 9, 2016 / 1:56 PM / in 2 years

Turkey's bid to lift immunity of pro-Kurdish MPs gathers pace

ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s prime minister applied to parliament on Wednesday to lift the immunity of senior pro-Kurdish opposition deputies to prosecute them on charges of belonging to an armed terrorist group.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu leaves his office to welcome his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras in the Aegean port city of Izmir, western Turkey, March 8, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Such a step could further inflame tensions in the mainly Kurdish southeast which has been hit by the worst violence in two decades since a two-year Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) ceasefire collapsed in July.

President Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly called for Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputies to face prosecution, accusing them of being an extension of the PKK. Lawmakers in Turkey are normally protected from prosecution.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s office filed a submission requesting immunity from prosecution be lifted from HDP co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag and deputies Selma Irmak, Sirri Sureyya Onder and Ertugrul Kurkcu, parliament officials told Reuters.

They deny the accusation of belonging to an armed terrorist organization and provoking hatred.

“The attitudes of those who exploit ‘podium immunity’ and offend the shared conscience cannot be assessed within (the framework of) immunity,” Davutoglu told reporters.

The Kurdish conflict in NATO Turkey has been further complicated by the activity of armed Kurdish groups across the border in Syria. Syrian Kurds have been a close ally of the United States in fighting Islamic State but Ankara regards them as a partner of the PKK and a terrorist grouping

Demirtas alone is the subject some 60 dossiers in parliament calling for the lifting of his immunity, including some related to calls for protest marches. As yet, there have been no moves in the assembly to open the way for his prosecution.

“FEELINGS OF REVENGE”?

“Erdogan is personally angry with us, especially me and a few other friends. He is...driven by feelings of revenge,” Demirtas told reporters this week, attributing this to HDP election successes last year that chipped at the power of the AK Party Erdogan founded.

The HDP exceeded the threshold of 10 percent of votes to become the first party with Kurdish roots to enter parliament on its own in a general election in June.

Demirtas says he opposes violence and wants a negotiated end to a three-decade conflict with the PKK, deemed a terrorist organization by the United States and the EU as well as Turkey, that has cost some 40,000 lives.

The latest requests were prepared in response to calls for Kurdish self-rule by the lawmakers at a congress last December. If the parliamentary commission backs lifting immunity, the request will be debated and a vote held, requiring a simple majority.

In 1994, at the height of the conflict, lawmakers had their immunity revoked after speaking Kurdish in parliament. Four MPs spent a decade in prison, sparking condemnation from Turkey’s Western partners.

(This story has been refiled to remove repetition of lead paragraph)

Additional reporting Ercan Gurses in Ankara; Writing by Daren Butler; editing by Ralph Boulton

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