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Turkey's high court nixes pro-Kurd party, sparks turbulence

With Friday’s ruling DTP took the dubious honor of being the 25th political party closed down in Turkey since 1962.

Supporters of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) shout slogans in front of the DTP headquarters in Ankara, Dec. 12, 2009. Turkey's top court closed the only pro-Kurdish party in parliament on Friday for having links to PKK Kurdish rebels in a ruling that deals a fresh blow to the country's faltering bid to join the European Union. The ruling imposes a five-year ban from politics on 37 members of the DTP, including Ahmet Turk and Aysel Tugluk. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

ISTANBUL, Turkey — The unanimous decision by Turkey’s high court to ban the country’s largest pro-Kurdish party over alleged terrorist links has sent the country into a state of political uncertainty.

While not unexpected, the move has sparked turbulence in the mainly Kurdish southeast and threatens to jeopardize the efforts by the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) to resolve the bloody, 25-year conflict with the Kurds through peaceful means.

As news of the ban spread, furious protesters became violent Saturday, using rocks and firebombs against the police. In the town of Yuksekova, close to Turkey's borders with Iraq and Iran, a crowd pelted an armored police bus with stones, as firebombs hit two other armored vehicles, Dogan news agency video showed. In neighboring Hakkari, a mob attempted to lynch two police officers but were prevented from doing so by local Kurdish politicians.

After four days of deliberation, the constitutional court in Ankara ruled that the Democratic Society party (DTP) was undermining national security and cooperating with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the Kurdish rebel group that has been fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey since the 1980s.

The DTP chairman, Ahmet Turk, and 36 members were banned from politics for five years. The party will also be stripped of its assets by the Treasury. While maintaining that he still held out hope for a peaceful and democratic resolution of the Kurdish conflict, Turk said that the ban would be counterproductive.

Saturday all 21 DTP deputies in Turkey's 544-seat parliament announced their resignation, raising the possibility of by-elections in several districts of Turkey’s southeast.

“Turkey is going through a process, and we firmly believe one day they will be ready. Democracy and peace will become a reality," said Turk, adding that the conflict could not be resolved by party closures, but “only through the use of reason, logic and dialogue.”

The court's chairman, Hasim Kilic, defended the ban, saying that the DTP had rejected peaceful politics and left the court with no choice but to close the party down. Kilic did not cite the specific allegations that led to the verdict, which is expected to be published in full next week.

"A political party has to make a distinction between pro-terror and peaceful messages," he said. “The European Court of Human Rights is clear on this point.”

The EU, however, expressed concern over Friday's ruling, dealing yet another blow to Turkey’s hopes of membership.

"While strongly denouncing violence and terrorism, the presidency recalls that the dissolution of political parties is an exceptional measure that should be used with utmost restraint," said the EU's Swedish presidency in a statement reported by Reuters.