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Turkey resumes trial of Kurdish political leaders amid unrest

A trial accusing more than 150 Kurdish leaders of supporting terrorism resumes in Turkey, as residents of the Kurdish-majority southeast take to the streets in angry protest. Yet many still seek a peaceful solution.

Kurds protest carrying Turkish flag

Kurds in Turkey have long complained of persecution

The controversial trial in Turkey of more than 150 Kurdish political leaders resumes on Thursday, with Kurdish activists denouncing it as a farce.

The defendants - who include several elected officials - are accused of being part of a terrorist network linked to the Kurdish insurgent group, the PKK. The case is the largest of its kind in more than a decade and comes as Kurdish groups are seeking a peaceful solution to more than 25 years of fighting.

The trial's resumption prompted running battles on Sunday between police and residents of towns and cities across the predominantly Kurdish southeast. In a press conference, Aysel Tugluk, head of Kurdish umbrella group the DTK, called for the trial to be canceled.

Aysel Tugluk

Tugluk, right, and her former party co-leader were banned from politics

"This freak of law should come to an end, and in order to proceed with truly democratic Turkey what is necessary is for true law to be realized," she said. "Our friends who are under arrest should be released immediately."

Motivations questioned

Tugluk was the joint leader of Turkey's main Kurdish party, the DTP, until it was closed down by the Constitutional Court last year for allegedly supporting the PKK. The court also expelled her from parliament, and in a separate court case she is facing decades in jail for speeches she made.

The defendants on Thursday face similar long sentences if convicted. The trial is part of a wider investigation which has seen the arrest of nearly 2,000 members of the DTP's successor party, the BDP.

But despite claims that the trial is to suppress the Kurdish minority, Minister for EU membership Egemen Bagis said the investigation is not politically motivated.

"The detentions are not because they were members of a political party, [but] because they were channeling - according to the allegations of the prosecutors - funds from the municipalities to the terrorist organization," he said.

PKK rebels

The militant PKK has called a ceasefire until June elections

Civil campaign

The terrorist organization Bagis referred to is the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has been fighting the Turkish state for greater Kurdish rights since 1984.

The group has called a ceasefire until next June's general election, and last month the BDP - along with other Kurdish groups - launched a civil campaign for greater rights, centered on using the Kurdish language.

Some analysts say the campaign for Kurdish rights could be moving away from armed struggle. But political scientist Cengiz Aktar warned that Thursday's trial, along with the ongoing legal crackdown, can only undermine such efforts.

"It's clearly counterproductive," he said. "There is no way we can talk about solutions to Kurdish problems while there is a trial involving elected members of the Kurdish politics."

Author: Dorian Jones/acb
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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