Erdogan backs opening of criminal probe against Kurdish party leaders

Friday 01/01/2016
Only politician in Turkey to rival charisma of Erdogan

ANKARA - President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday backed the opening of a criminal probe into the leaders of Turkey's main pro-Kurdish party, saying they should "pay the price" for remarks pressing for autonomy for the country's largest ethnic minority.

Erdogan also suggested Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag -- the co-leaders of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) should have their parliamentary immunity removed for the investigation into their "constitutional crime".

Turkish prosecutors last week opened a criminal probe against Demirtas for his comments at a conference and then opened a similar investigation against Yuksekdag.

Making no pretence at staying away from judicial matters, Erdogan said: "What the two co-leaders said is definitely a constitutional crime."

The closure of the party should not be on the agenda but MPs and local mayors needed to be investigated, Erdogan told reporters on board his presidential plane in remarks published in leading newspapers including the Hurriyet daily.

"They should pay a price for it," he said.

"I believe that the lifting of immunity of those against whom the cases have been initiated will help the atmosphere in our country in the fight against terror in a positive way."

"We cannot accept statements calling for the country to be broken up. We will never agree to a state within a state."

Demirtas said last weekend that Kurds in Turkey had to decide whether to live in autonomy or "under one man's tyranny", in an apparent reference to Erdogan.

His remarks outraged nationalists who believe any degree of autonomy for Turkish Kurds in the southeast would undermine the unitary nature of the modern Turkish state set up by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923.

The Turkish strongman had earlier condemned the remarks as "treason" but this is the first time he has suggested Demirtas and Yuksekdag should stand trial.

The probe comes amid rising tension between the authorities and many in the Kurdish minority over the military's relentless campaign -- backed by curfews -- against rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the southeast.

Demirtas emerged over the last year as a key rival of Erdogan, with many commentators saying he is the only politician in the country to rival the charisma of the Turkish leader.