Turkey's Kurdish MP's closer to trial after parliament brawl

AP News
Posted: May 03, 2016 10:07 AM
Turkey's Kurdish MP's closer to trial after parliament brawl

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A Turkish parliamentary committee has approved a contentious ruling-party proposal to strip legislators of their immunity from prosecution despite punches being thrown and water bottles hurled during the debate.

The proposed constitutional amendment, which could pave the way for the trial of several pro-Kurdish legislators on terror-related charges and their possible ouster from parliament, was cleared by the committee late on Monday.

Pro-Kurdish party lawmakers walked out of the meeting following the brawl, which left one person with a dislocated shoulder and a second with a bloodied nose.

Video filmed by legislators inside the committee room showed people throwing water bottles at each other and engaging in fist-fights. One legislator jumped into the fight from a table top and another was seen kicking an opponent.

Pro-Kurdish lawmaker Mithat Sancar was heard saying that the party "would not be part of this theater that is being staged," before he and his colleagues stormed out.

The amendment, which still needs to be approved by the full assembly, was proposed by the ruling party after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the pro-Kurdish party, People's Democratic Party, HDP, of being an arm of the outlawed Kurdish rebels and repeatedly called for their prosecution.

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.

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On Tuesday, both the ruling party and the HDP blamed each other for the violence.

"They are attacking our legislators in order to prevent the process," Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said. "They are trying to show parliament as a place for fighting, chaos and deadlock."

Pro-Kurdish leader Demirtas said of the ruling party: "They are trying to shape Turkey through violence, arms, bullying."

He also suggested that expelled legislators could form their own de-facto Kurdish parliament.

"If our colleagues are arrested, their terms as legislators are ended, then all options are open for discussion," Demirtas said. "It's not the parties that create parliaments, it's the people, and if the people want it they can create more than one parliament."

Ruling party lawmaker Bulent Turan said the debate on the amendment was likely to take place on May 16, with a vote two days later.

Five lawmakers were hurt last week on the first day of the discussions on the amendment, which also ended in a fight.