Turkey pro-Kurdish party warns of 'civil war' after nationalist rampage

AFP , Wednesday 9 Sep 2015

Erdogan (Photo: Reuters)

The leader of Turkey's main pro-Kurdish party warned Wednesday the country was being dragged into a "civil war" following a wave of attacks on its offices by nationalists outraged by Kurdish rebel killings of dozens of security force members.

Tensions have risen sharply in Turkey in the past few days, as the government presses a major military operation against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants, and the rebels hit back with daily attacks against the army and police.

On Tuesday night, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Ankara and other cities to condemn the increasingly bloody PKK assaults in the east, where two attacks killed 29 soldiers and police between Sunday and Tuesday.

The demonstrators took aim at the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), whom they accuse of collaborating with the PKK, torching the party's headquarters in Ankara and also setting a branch office in the southern city of Alanya on fire.

Turkish media said 93 people were detained in Istanbul alone over the attacks.

HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas denounced what he described as two nights of government-backed "lynching" of the party.

"In the last two days more than 400 attacks (on HDP) property have been carried out. We are facing a campaign of lynching," he said, laying the blame at the feet of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

"It is not us (the HDP) who has taken the decision to start this war and intensify it... the decision has been taken by the president and the prime minister," he said in televised comments.

"They want to create a civil war and the last two days have been rehearsals for this," he said.

Addressing a press conference in Ankara with visiting European Union president Donald Tusk, Erdogan hit back, saying Demirtas was "mad" to talk of civil war and warning: "If you side with terrorism you will have to suffer the consequences."

HDP leaders had to "choose between democracy and terrorism", Erdogan said.

Davutoglu, for his part, denounced Tuesday's attacks on the HDP as well as on the offices of the leading Hurriyet newspaper in Istanbul, which Erdogan supporters accused of misrepresenting the president.

"The objective of terrorism is to undermine our unshakeable, brotherly ties. Attacking the press and the property of political parties is unacceptable," the premier wrote on Twitter.

The street violence comes as the Turkish army intensifies its military campaign against the PKK, sending 150 special forces across the border into northern Iraq in pursuit of the rebels in the wake of Sunday's killing of 16 soldiers near the frontier.

The airforce has also been carrying out airstrikes on PKK positions inside northern Iraq, as well as strikes against the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria.

Demirtas meanwhile sought to travel to Cizre on Wednesday, a city in the Kurdish-dominated southeast which has been under military curfew for almost a week.

After his convoy of vehicles was stopped by police outside the town of Midyat, Demirtas said the group would continue the remaining 90 kilometres (56 miles) on foot.

The clashes between the state and PKK, which resumed in late July, have upended a 2013 ceasefire that had sparked hopes of an end to the PKK's three-decade insurgency, which has killed tens of thousands of people.

The PKK took up arms in 1984 with the aim of establishing an independent state for Turkey's Kurdish minority, although lately its demands have focused on greater autonomy and cultural rights.

Speaking in Ankara, EU Council President Tusk expressed concern about the spiralling violence, including the attacks on the HDP's headquarters, and called for the government and rebels to resume the talks they began in 2012.

The US State Department said the violence directed at HDP facilities and the Hurriyet newspaper was "unacceptable" and endorsed calls from the Turkish government for calm.

Adding to the tensions in Turkey is the advent of a snap general election on November 1.

The HDP, which denies being a front for the PKK, won more than 13 percent of the vote in the last parliamentary election in June, a strong performance that effectively prevented Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) from retaining its overall majority and crushed Erdogan's dream of creating a US-style presidential system.

After coalition talks failed Erdogan called a fresh election.

"It is chaos and the one thing to blame is Erdogan's insistence on wanting to create a presidential system," said prominent pro-opposition commentator Cengiz Aktar, a professor at Istanbul's Suleyman Shah university.

"If this continues Turkey will end up in a civil war... The danger is that there is no mediator," he told AFP.

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