Erdogan accuses Kurdish leader of ‘treason’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday accused the leader of the main Kurdish party Selahattin Demirtas of “treason” over his call for autonomy for the country’s Kurdish minority.

In a speech at the weekend, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chairman Demirtas said that Turkey’s largest ethnic minority had to decide whether to live in autonomy or “under one man’s tyranny”.

On Monday, prosecutors opened a criminal investigation against him for crimes against the constitutional order over the remarks.

“What the co-leader has done is clearly provocation, treason,” Mr. Erdogan told reporters Tuesday at Istanbul airport before leaving for Saudi Arabia. The charismatic 42-year-old has emerged as Mr. Erdogan’s key rival over the last year, with many commentators saying he is the only politician to rival the Turkish strongman’s rhetorical skills.

Under party rules, Mr. Demirtas shares the leadership of the HDP with a woman, Figen Yuksekdag.

In an address to HDP lawmakers in the parliament, Ms. Yuksekdag hit back, saying: “If there is a word to describe us, it’s not treacherous but loyal. We are loyal to our peoples’ struggle.”

The Turkish government labels the HDP a political front for the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which is designated as a terrorist organisation by Ankara and its Western allies.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had cancelled a scheduled meeting with Mr. Demirtas planned this week to discuss constitutional reforms, chastising the party for banking on “conflict and tensions.”

Tensions are running high in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, which has been rocked by curfews imposed on several towns where the security forces have been battling PKK militants. — AFP

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