Turkish legislators take up bill to prosecute colleagues

AP News
Posted: Apr 28, 2016 7:39 AM

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish lawmakers on Thursday argued and pushed each other as they debated a contentious ruling-party proposal to strip legislators of their immunity from prosecution — a move that could pave the way for the trial of pro-Kurdish legislators on terrorism-related charges.

A parliamentary committee began initial discussions on the proposed constitutional amendment, which was drafted by the ruling party after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, HDP, of being an arm of the outlawed Kurdish rebels, and repeatedly called for the prosecution of some party leaders.

The move comes amid a surge of violence in Turkey's southeast after a fragile, more than 2-year-old peace process with the rebels collapsed. Hundreds of people, including close to 400 security force members, have died in the renewed fighting, which also displaced tens of thousands of people and left some towns and districts in ruins.

The HDP, which backs Kurdish and other minority rights, denies accusations that it is the political arm of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. It has called on the government to end security forces' operations in the southeast to resume peace efforts. The PKK is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

Although the measure would lift the legal immunities of all lawmakers who have legal cases pending against them, critics say the proposed amendment particularly aims to oust HDP lawmakers from parliament. The party's two co-leaders, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, face possible prosecution for making statements last year in support of calls for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey.

On Thursday, the committee meeting room proved to be too small to hold journalists and scores of legislators who wanted to watch the proceedings, leading to chaotic scenes. Ruling-party and HDP lawmakers were seen arguing at the start of the meeting. The private Dogan news agency said some lawmakers pushed and shoved each other.

On Wednesday, a brawl erupted on the assembly floor, after a HDP lawmaker accused the security forces of "massacres" against Kurds in the southeast, sparking anger in the ruling party, where people who were heard shouting "Terrorist, terrorist!"