Kurds fight running battles with Turkish police

AP News
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Posted: Dec 12, 2009 12:08 PM

Angry Kurds battled Turkish police with rocks and firebombs Saturday to protest a decision by the country's top court to shut down a pro-Kurdish political party on charges of ties to militants.

The party's lawmakers said they would boycott parliament.

The party was banned Friday, a day after the main Kurdish rebel group claimed responsibility for killing seven Turkish soldiers in an ambush in central Turkey, an attack that outraged the country.

The ban and ensuing violence deepened uncertainty over efforts to end a conflict between the state and its largest ethnic minority.

A crowd pelted an armored police bus with stones as firebombs hit two other armored vehicles, briefly engulfing them in fire in the town of Yuksekova, close to the borders with Iraq and Iran, Dogan news agency video showed. Protesters blocked streets with barricades and burning tires. Police used water canons to mark the protesters with brightly colored water.

In neighboring Hakkari city, a mob attempted to lynch two police officers but were prevented by local Kurdish politicians, the state-run Anatolia news agency said. Police detained about a dozen protesters, the area's governor said.

Protests took place elsewhere in the region and the western cities of Ankara and Izmir, Anatolia said.

Democratic Society Party chairman Ahmet Turk said the remaining 19-seat group had withdrawn and would not attend sessions of the 550-seat assembly. The party had 21 seats but the court Friday expelled Turk and another legislator from the assembly.

The political turmoil has jeopardized a government project to reconcile with minority Kurds in the hopes of ending the fight with Kurdish rebels who have been labeled terrorists by the West. The party has resisted calls from Turkish politicians to label the guerrillas as such.

The European Union has expressed concern over the ban, saying in a statement that "while strongly denouncing violence and terrorism, the presidency recalls that the dissolution of political parties is an exceptional measure that should be used with utmost restraint."

The court said in its ruling that the party had ties to the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has fought for autonomy from the Turkish state since 1984.

The court also barred Turk and legislator Aysel Tugluk from joining any political party for five years along with 35 other party members, including Leyla Zana, a prominent Kurd who served a decade in prison on charges of separatism.

"What else can the court do when there are party administrators who declare the terrorist organization to be their reason of existence," the Anatolia news agency quoted President Abdullah Gul as saying during a visit to Montenegro.

The court has shut down several Kurdish party on similar charges in the past. The predecessor of the Democratic Society Party had dissolved itself in 2005. The party is the 27th to be shut down in Turkey since 1968.

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Associated Press Writer Ceren Kumova in Ankara contributed to this report.