Erdogan govt aims to ban opposition party ahead of polls

Turkey's chief prosecutor made his final case in court Tuesday to shut down a Kurdish-backed opposition party before the country heads to the polls later this year.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has been trying to dissolve the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) -- parliament's third-largest -- since March 2021 over its alleged ties to outlawed Kurdish militants.

The party says it is being singled out for standing up for Kurdish rights and resisting the government's expanding clampdown on political freedoms and dissent.

The case is reaching its conclusion before the Constitutional Court in time to have major repercussions for Erdogan's re-election chances and parliament's future makeup in elections expected before June.

The party won 12 percent of the vote in a 2018 general election and holds 56 of parliament's 579 seats.

Its dissolution could limit the election options of millions of Kurdish voters and further complicate Turkey's uneasy ties with the West.

But Erdogan brands the HDP as the political wing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) -- listed as a terrorist organisation by the United States and European Union as well as Ankara.

Chief prosecutor Bekir Sahin portrayed the HDP on Tuesday as the "recruitment office" of the PKK.

"We have demonstrated that the defendant party has become the focus of actions contrary to the indivisible integrity of the state," Sahin told reporters after making his final argument in court.

"Its ties to the (PKK) are a well-known fact. Our whole society knows about them."

- Funding freeze -

The Turkish government has shut down other pro-Kurdish parties before the HDP.

Others have closed in the face of prosecution and then re-formed under different names.

The HDP is already reeling from the arrest and imprisonment of thousands of its members and dozens of its local officials.

The government's current case began two weeks after Turkey lost 13 soldiers in a risky operation aimed at rescuing captives held by the PKK in the caves of northern Iraq in February 2021.

Erdogan accused the PKK of executing the Turkish servicemen.

The HDP issued a carefully-worded statement that expressed condolences but did not explicitly condemn the PKK at the time.

The party's troubles expanded when the Constitutional Court froze its access to a bank account through which it receives state funding last week.

The decision deprives the party of its main source of income heading into the election campaign.

"It is obvious that the Constitutional Court's decision to block our party funds is political," the HDP said in a statement.

The party will have a month to prepare its defence before the court convenes for considerations.

The 15-member panel needs a two-thirds majority to approve a political ban.

The HDP said it expected the case to conclude "in the coming months, before the elections".

The chief prosecutor said the verdict's timing was "at the Constitutional Court's discretion".

zak/jmm