ISTANBUL (AP) – Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition elected new co-presidents Sunday, following a crackdown on the party for alleged terror links that led to the jailing of its former co-leaders and hundreds of arrests.
The Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP – the second-largest opposition party represented in the Turkish parliament – unanimously elected lawmaker Pervin Buldan and deputy co-chair Sezai Temelli amid heavy security in Ankara.
Buldan was picked to replace jailed HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas, who has been behind bars since November 2016 pending trial on terror charges for alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants.
Prosecutors are seeking a 142-year prison sentence if he is convicted of leading a terror organization, engaging in terror propaganda and other crimes. Demirtas denies the accusations.
Demirtas, who ran against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey’s first direct presidential election in 2014 and led HDP to parliament in two general elections in 2015, said he would step down as co-chair and not stand for re-election.
Temelli is taking over from Serpil Kemalbey as co-leader. The party in May elected Kemalbey to replace former co-leader Figen Yuksekdag, who was removed as a member of parliament and jailed on similar terror charges.
Seven other HDP lawmakers have been arrested under Turkey’s state of emergency, which was declared following a failed coup in July 2016.
The Turkish government has accused the HDP of not distancing itself from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and instead supporting it. Turkey, the European Union and the United States consider the PKK a terror organization.
A fragile peace process between Turkey and the PKK collapsed in the summer of 2015, leading to intensified fighting between Turkish security forces and the insurgency. HDP lawmakers were working on the peace process with the government and the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan.-
The HDP has blamed the Turkish government and Erdogan of fueling nationalist sentiments and using the failed coup as a pretext to crackdown on any opposition that could threaten the president’s grip on power.
The country’s official Anadolu news agency said authorities issued a detention warrant Friday against Kemalbey over her opposition to Turkey’s current military offensive in northern Syria against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG. Turkey considers the YPG a terror organization and an extension of the PKK. Kemalbey spoke at the party’s congress Sunday and has not been detained so far.
Turkey launched the military operation on the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in northern Syria on Jan. 20, citing national security.
Since then, hundreds of people in Turkey have been detained for alleged terror propaganda based on social media posts and protests of the military operation.