Turkey Starts Trial of Kurdish Politicians Over Deadly Protests

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A Turkish court on Monday starts hearing a case against the former co-chairs of the country’s leading pro-Kurdish party, who are accused of inciting deadly protests over the government’s failure to protect Kurds facing Islamic State attacks in the Syrian border town of Kobani in 2014.

Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, both jailed since late 2016 in a separate terrorism case, are charged with encouraging the violence that killed at least 37 people. They are among 108 suspects on trial for their involvement in the protests.

Under the two politicians, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, won an unprecedented 80 seats in a mid-2015 parliamentary election, denying President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party a majority for the first time in its then nearly 13-year rule. In a re-run vote, the AK Party regained its legislative majority.

The following year, authorities launched a crackdown on the HDP, stripping its lawmakers of their immunity from prosecution and arresting several top party leaders, including the two co-chairs.

The government accuses the Demirtas and Yuksekdag and their party of having ties to Turkey’s outlawed Kurdish PKK, which sent fighters to battle Islamic State in Kobani and elsewhere in Syria. The PKK is classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and European Union.

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