Turkey’s new parliament set for tense opening

ANKARA — Turkey’s new parliament braced for a tense opening Tuesday as Kurdish deputies announced a boycott and the main opposition threatened to join the protest over lawmakers who in prison.

By (AFP)

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Published: Tue 28 Jun 2011, 4:48 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 2:34 AM

Parliament was to convene at 3:00 pm (1200 GMT) for an oath-taking ceremony following the June 12 elections, in which the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a third straight term in power.

It was hardly the start Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would have hoped for in the new legislature after promising to seek a compromise with the opposition for a major constitutional overhaul, his key election pledge.

An opposition boycott cannot block the inauguration of the 550-member house, where the AKP has a comfortable majority of 327 seats — it is rather aimed at putting the AKP under political pressure to seek a solution to the controversy.

Tensions shot up last week when the courts, defying precedent, refused to free nine opposition lawmakers who were elected while awaiting trial in prison, and the electoral board stripped one of them of his seat over a terror-related conviction.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party, which holds 135 seats, convened ahead of the session to discuss its next move, vowing it ‘will not bow down to injustice’ after judges rejected pleas to free two of its lawmakers.

Journalist Mustafa Balbay and academic Mehmet Haberal, detained for more than two years, have been charged as part of a massive probe into alleged plots to destabilise and overthrow the AKP.

Lawyers had sought their release arguing the suspects do not pose a risk of destroying evidence or fleeing the ongoing trial.

The coup probes, under way since 2007, are already under fire for having degenerated into a government-backed campaign to silence AKP opponents.

With trials advancing at a sluggish pace, dozens are kept in prison and prosecutors are yet to secure convictions.

Also unable to assume their parliamentary seats were six Kurdish activists, in prison on charges of collaborating with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Ankara lists as a terrorist group for the 26-year separatist insurgency it has led in the southeast.

One of them — veteran politician Hatip Dicle — was stripped of his seat in a separate legal move: the electoral board had first approved his candidacy but then ruled he had not been eligible to run because of a 20-month sentence for remarks deemed as PKK propaganda.

The loss of the seat, eventually taken over by the AKP, triggered outrage among the Kurdish community and resulted in a decision by the remaining 30 Kurdish-backed lawmakers to boycott parliament.

The row added to tensions in the southeast that had flared ahead of the polls amid PKK threats to step up violence in a conflict that has already claimed some 45,000 lives.

The ninth lawmaker in prison is a retired general, also on trial on coup charges, who was elected from the opposition Nationalist Action Party.

Facing calls to initiate legal amendments to end the row, Erdogan has shown little sympathy for the jailed lawmakers, prompting reminders that he himself was the victim of a similar controversy when the AKP came to power in November 2002.

Erdogan became prime minister four months later after the AKP amended laws that had banished him from politics over a conviction for Islamist sedition.

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