More Kurdish politicians face separatism charges

AP News
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Posted: Aug 03, 2011 6:52 AM
More Kurdish politicians face separatism charges

Turkey on Wednesday said it would put 106 more Kurdish politicians on trial for alleged terrorist propaganda, choosing to go ahead with prosecutions despite lingering tensions over the trial of dozens of others accused of fanning separatist violence.

The government has toughened its stance on Kurdish politicians after they declared autonomy in the country's largely Kurdish southeast last month and Kurdish guerrillas killed 13 Turkish soldiers in clashes.

The trial of 98 former Kurdish mayors and eight other politicians will start soon in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, the court said Wednesday. The suspects had called for the improvement of the Kurdish rebel chief's prison conditions, comments prosecutors say amount to terrorist propaganda.

The politicians were from the now banned pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, which was shut down in 2009 for ties to Abdullah Ocalan's rebel group. Ocalan has been serving life on a prison island near Istanbul since 1999.

The suspects face a maximum 20 years in prison if convicted. They also face a charge of committing a crime on behalf of Ocalan's illegal Kurdish rebel group, though they were not members.

The case was launched as 152 other Kurdish politicians, including several elected mayors, and activists stood trial in Diyarbakir on Wednesday, for alleged ties to the rebels. The defense lawyers boycotted the hearing for a second day in row to protest the court's refusal to hear their defense in the Kurdish language.

The court then decided to file charges against those lawyers for neglecting their duties.

The court cases come as the guerillas, who seek autonomy and other rights, have escalated attacks in recent weeks, apparently dissatisfied with government pledges to follow through on reconciliation efforts after June elections, even though it granted some cultural rights to Kurds in line with Turkey's bid to join the European Union. The clashes also left about 10 rebels dead.

The government has said it will not tolerate any move that threatens the country's unity and announced plans to deploy elite police forces in the southeast to help the troops battle the rebels.

The conflict has killed nearly 40,000 people since the guerrillas took up arms in 1984.