Bill to strip Turkish legislators of immunity clears hurdle

AP News
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Posted: May 17, 2016 3:42 PM
Bill to strip Turkish legislators of immunity clears hurdle

ISTANBUL (AP) — A significant majority in Turkey's parliament voted on Tuesday in favor of a divisive, government-backed constitutional amendment that would strip legislators of their immunity from prosecution, increasing the chances that it becomes law.

The state-run Anadolu Agency reported that 348 lawmakers in the 550-seat assembly voted in favor of the amendment in Tuesday's first round of secret balloting.

The bill, which was proposed by the ruling party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been the subject of intense debate with committee sessions on the issue ending in blows. While it would lift the immunity of all legislators, critics say it primarily targets pro-Kurdish legislators.

The amendment was proposed by the ruling party after Turkey's president accused the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, or HDP, of being an arm of outlawed Kurdish rebels and repeatedly called for their prosecution on terror-related charges.

A minimum of 330 votes are needed in a second ballot on Friday to pave the way for a referendum on the amendment. Should it get the support of more than 367 lawmakers in that vote, it would pass directly without the need for a referendum.

The votes coincide with a wave of violence in Turkey's southeast following the collapse of a more than 2-year peace process between the state and the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK.

The HDP, which backs Kurdish and other minority rights, denies accusations that it is the political arm of the PKK, considered a terrorist group by Ankara and its allies. The party has urged the government to end security operations in the southeast and to resume peace efforts.

Tuesday's vote was seen as an indicator of the bill's chances to become law. If it passes, 138 lawmakers whose dossiers have been sent to the parliament speaker would risk prosecution. Of 667 legal files, 405 concern HDP lawmakers, according to Anadolu Agency and a Turkish official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.