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Middle East

Turkey indicts top Syrian Kurdish leader

Turkey has issued arrest warrants for the leader of the main Syrian Kurdish party (PYD) allied with the western anti-"Islamic State" coalition. Ankara accuses the PYD of ties to Kurdish guerillas in Turkey's southeast.

Turkey issued arrest warrants Tuesday for the PYD's leader Saleh Muslim as well as several fugitive leaders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) over a deadly February bombing that targeted Turkish military vehicles. That will certainly further complicate relations between Ankara and its western allies, whichsee the PYD as key allies in the fight against the self-styled "Islamic State" in Syria and Iraq. Turkey is angered by the United States and other western support for the PYD and insists it's linked to the PKK, which is listed as a "terrorist" organization by the US and European Union. Washington insists the PYD is separate from Kurdish guerillas fighting in Turkey.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) - a rogue offshoot of the Kurdish guerilla movement - claimed the February 17 suicide bombing that killed 29 people

The PYD denies any involvement in attacks in Turkey and says it is focused on protecting ethnic Kurds inside Syria. The PYD commander as well as fugitive PKK leaders Cemil Bayik, Murat Karayilan and Fehman Huseyin were among 48 people indicted for crimes in connection with the bombing.

All three are believed to be at the group's paramilitary bases in the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq. A peace process between Turkey and the PKK collapsed last year and violence has returned, resulting in more than 2,000 deaths. More than 40,000 people have died in the 30-year conflict.

Turkey has since cracked down on the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which it alleges has links to the PKK. The HDP's leadership has been imprisoned and a delegation of European parliamentarians was prevented by Turkish security forces Monday from visiting HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas, who remains jailed in Edirne.

Türkei Istanbul Verhaftung eines Pro-Kurden-Demonstranten (Getty Images/AFP/Y. Akgul)

Turkey declared a state of emergency after a failed coup bid in July, with tens of thousands arrested in a massive crackdown which critics call a breach of human rights.

The Turkish government has also used emergency powers to remove more than 50 locally elected pro-Kurdish municipal leaders from towns and cities across the predominately Kurdish southeast. So far criticism of the crackdown has been muted. European and US leaders have urged caution though are careful to voice support for the key military ally.

On Monday, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg  - when pressed by a Dutch lawmaker critical of the Turkish state - refused to condemn the crackdown. He would only say that Turkey has a right to prosecute those responsible for the coup but only within the scope of the law. "I personally attach great importance to the core values of NATO - democracy, rule of law and individual liberty," Stoltenberg said without elaborating.

jar/kl (AFP, Reuters, dpa)