Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said autonomy demands from a Kurdish leader were a “clear provocation” and his political party will be “taught a lesson”.
A Turkish prosecutor opened an investigation into Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) chief Selahattin Demirtas after he made recent calls for greater Kurdish self-governance in the country’s southeast.
Erdogan’s remarks targeting Demirtas on Tuesday could further widen the gulf between the government and the Kurdish opposition as violence increases in the region.
“A certain leader … talked nonsense and what he did is a clear provocation and treason,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul before departing on a trip to Saudi Arabia, adding the HDP would be “taught a lesson by our citizens and the law”.
Demirtas was a participant in a two-day gathering of Kurdish groups last weekend that called for more self-governance. At the conference, he said there would be “a Kurdistan” in the next century and it could include an independent state.
Clashes between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and security forces in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast have flared since the collapse of a ceasefire in July.
Fighting has been particularly intense in the last two weeks and the military says more than 210 Kurdish fighters were killed.
The HDP and rights groups say civilians are also dying in the conflict, a claim the government denies.
“This is the time when the masks have been taken off and the real faces exposed,” Erdogan said, addressing Demirtas.
“How dare you talk about establishing a state in the southeast and in the east within Turkey’s existing unitary structure,” he added.
“You cannot take such a step. Neither the national will, nor our security forces, armed forces, police, village guards will allow such a thing.”
An autonomous Kurdish entity known as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) exists in neighbouring northern Iraq.
The KRG and Turkey are politically and economically on good terms with increasing Turkish investments in the region.
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