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Turkey’s Erdogan slams jailed Kurdish leader, vows reforms with nationalist ally

Published: Updated:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday a jailed Kurdish leader has “blood on his hands”, scotching any hopes that a reform plan could lead to wider liberties for the opposition and dissidents.

Erdogan promised a slate of judicial and economic reforms two weeks ago, leading to expectations of the possible release of politicians, including Kurdish ones, and human rights advocates from jail.

Former deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc, a founder of Erdogan’s AK Party some two decades ago, added to that speculation with a call for the release of Selahattin Demirtas, former leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party.

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His comments drew a strong rebuke from Erdogan, and on Wednesday the president said: “It offended me that he suggested everyone read the book written by a terrorist,” Erdogan said, referring to Arinc urging people to read Demirtas’ book to understand Turkey’s Kurdish issue.

“There is no Kurdish issue in this country,” Erdogan said. Demirtas, he said, defends “terrorism” and has the “blood of thousands of Kurds on his hands.”

A supporter of Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) holds a mask of their jailed former leader and presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas during a rally in Ankara, Turkey, June 19, 2018. (Reuters/Umit Bektas)
A supporter of Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) holds a mask of their jailed former leader and presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas during a rally in Ankara, Turkey, June 19, 2018. (Reuters/Umit Bektas)

As well as closing the door on some speculation over the direction of the reforms, the president said the AKP and his smaller Nationalist Movement Party coalition partners - staunch defenders of military action against Kurdish militants - would carry them out together.

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The Turkish media has been rife with rumors of friction within the coalition. The MHP takes a hardline view regarding the Kurdish movement so it would be against any reforms seen as sympathetic to the HDP.

Demirtas has been in prison for more than four years on charges related to violent protests against the Turkish army’s inaction during a militant attack on the Syrian Kurdish town Kobani.

Arinc resigned on Tuesday from the presidential advisory board.

Erdogan also defended the removal of dozens of elected HDP mayors from duty in the country’s mainly Kurdish southeast.

The HDP, which Demirtas chaired between 2014 and 2018, says the government has appointed caretaker mayors to 59 out of a total of 65 municipalities that the party won in local elections in March 2019.