ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A Turkish chief prosecutor's office on Monday opened an investigation into pro-Kurdish opposition leader Selahattin Demirtas for comments supporting self-rule for Kurds, the state-run news agency reported, a move that could heighten tensions in Turkey's mainly-Kurdish southeast.
The Ankara chief prosecutor's office was investigating whether Demirtas' words amount to sedition and crimes committed against Turkey's constitutional order, the Anadolu Agency reported.
Kurdish groups, including Demirtas' Peoples' Democratic Party, called for autonomy in Kurdish regions following a meeting in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir on Sunday. In a speech after the meeting, Demirtas voiced support for the groups' declaration and said his party adheres to the principle of self-rule.
While the pro-Kurdish leader has spoken in favor autonomy in the past, the prosecutors' move comes amid escalating tensions from stepped up military operations against Kurdish rebels in three urban districts which officials say has killed more than 210 militants since mid-December.
Turkish security forces launched the large-scale operations to rout militants linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK, who have set up barricades and dug trenches to keep authorities at bay. Thousands of troops and tanks have been sent to crush the militants in the town of Cizre and Silopi and Diyarbakir's historic Sur neighborhood which are under 24-hour curfews. Tens of thousands of civilians in southeast Turkey have been caught in the middle.
Fighting between the PKK and the government forces resumed in July, shattering a two-year-old peace process that aimed to put an end to the three-decade-old battle. Tens of thousands have lost their lives in the conflict.
Turkey opposes any moves that could break up the country along ethnic lines and on Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, dismissed the calls for self-rule as a "fantasy."
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu cancelled a planned meeting with Demirtas this week to discuss possible cooperation over the drafting of a new constitution, accusing the party of failing to denounce PKK violence. Last week, he accused Demirtas of treason for visiting Russia and speaking out against Turkey's downing of a Russian plane near its border with Syria.
Demirtas' party, which calls for the resumption of peace efforts with the PKK, made major electoral gains that upset Davutoglu's ruling party in a vote in June, but lost seats in a re-run in November. The party has accused the government of targeting civilians in its operations in urban areas — a claim the government rejects.
Anadolu said prosecutors were also investigating Demirtas for calling for protests last year to denounce what many Kurds said was measures by the Turkish government to impede efforts to defend the Syrian town of Kobani. Kurds clashed with police and members of an Islamist group across Turkey and more than 30 people were killed in the rioting.