Turkey pro-Kurd party quits parliament over arrests

Turkey's main pro-Kurdish party on Sunday said it was pulling out of parliament after nine of its MPs including the two co-leaders were arrested in an unprecedented crackdown. The Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the third-largest party in this legislature, said it would no longer be taking part in general sessions of parliament or commission work. The arrest on Friday of the MPs, including party leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, added to tensions as Turkey wages a relentless battle against Kurdish militants and deals with the aftermath of a July 15 failed coup. They have been charged with membership and promotion of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The move also compounded concerns among Turkey's Western allies that the state of emergency imposed after the coup bid is being used for a general crackdown against critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and not just the suspected plotters. On Saturday, an Istanbul court ordered the jailing pending trial of nine executives and editorial staff from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper. Some 35,000 people have been arrested after the coup bid, which Ankara blames on the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, while tens of thousands more have been fired from their jobs. The latest arrests of the HDP MPs prompted the Turkish authorities to restrict access to social media and VPN applications and also led to more heavy losses for the embattled Turkish lira. - 'Candle in the dark' - In his first reaction to the arrests, Erdogan described the HDP as the parliamentary "branch" of the PKK and said it made him "smile a lot" to see the charismatic Demirtas compared to US President Barack Obama in Western media. "It's very easy to to see their true faces," Erdogan said in a televised speech. The HDP has always denied being a front from the PKK, which has waged an over three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state in search of greater rights and autonomy for the Kurdish minority. The HDP said instead of sitting in parliament, its remaining MPs who are not under arrest will go from "house to house, village to village and district to district" to meet people and decide future strategy. The HDP has 59 seats in parliament and their absence could enable Erdogan to push through his vision of a presidential system which the HDP has always vehemently opposed. In a message from prison relayed by his lawyers, Demirtas said Turkey was being pushed "further into darkness" by the day. "But do not forget -- a single matchstick, a single candle is enough to illuminate this darkness," he said. The co-leader of the HDP-linked Democratic Regions Party (DBP) Sebahat Tuncel was Sunday also placed under arrest by the courts. - 'In one ear, out the other' - Washington and the European Union have reacted angrily to the arrests and EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik called in EU envoys to a meeting Monday, the ministry said in a statement. Turkey's bid to join the EU dates back to the 1960s with formal talks starting in 2005. But the process has been mired in problems and set back further by recent threats by Erdogan to bring back the death penalty. Responding to criticism, notably in Germany's Bild tabloid that he was a "dictator", Erdogan said he "could not care less." "It (the criticism) goes in one ear and out the other," he said. Turkish police had used tear gas and plastic bullets Saturday to disperse a demonstration in Istanbul against the arrests. A protest mustering up to 400 people also took place in the Kurdish-dominated southeastern city of Diyarbakir Sunday but passed without incident, an AFP correspondent said. A bomb attack in Diyarbakir on Friday left 11 people dead, with Turkey saying it was the work of the PKK and then Amaq news agency, affiliated to Islamic State (IS) extremists, claiming it for the jihadists. But on Sunday the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a splinter group of the better-known PKK and behind several deadly strikes this year, said the bombing was a suicide attack carried out by one of its militants.