Turkish court rejects requests to free Kurdish lawmakers

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2013 6:44 AM
Turkish court rejects requests to free Kurdish lawmakers

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - A Turkish court on Monday rejected bids by two Kurdish lawmakers to be released from lengthy pre-trial detention, a move that could undermine confidence in a fragile peace process with Kurdish militants.

The decision by the court in Diyarbakir, the regional center of Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast, came despite the country's top court ruling this month that the lengthy detention of another MP pending trial was unconstitutional.

Gulser Yildirim and Ibrahim Ayhan, members of parliament for the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), were detained in 2010 on charges of having links to the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and are still being held pending verdicts in their trials.

Ankara began peace talks with the PKK - designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union - more than a year ago to try to end a three-decade conflict which has killed more than 40,000 people.

A ceasefire has largely held since March and the government has proposed a package of limited reforms aimed at bolstering democracy, but PKK commanders have warned of fresh violence unless the process moves forward.

The release of prisoners accused of links to the PKK has been a long-standing Kurdish demand.

Three other BDP deputies in detention have also requested release but a prosecutor at a second court in Diyarbakir recommended on Monday that their petitions be turned down.

Hopes for the Kurdish parliamentarians' release had been heightened when an MP from another opposition party was freed last week after the Constitutional Court ruled his pre-trial detention had violated his rights.

Mustafa Balbay of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) pledged his oath in parliament last Tuesday after he was released pending appeal from nearly five years in prison on conspiracy charges.

(Reporting by Seyhmus Cakan; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Pravin Char)