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1ST LEAD Turkey's pro-Kurdish HDP votes in new leadership amid crackdown By Mirjam Schmitt, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Istanbul (dpa) - Fifteen months after he was imprisoned by Turkish authorities, prominent pro-Kurdish Peoples‘ Democratic Party (HDP) politician Selahattin Demirtas has been deposed from the leadership.

Some 32,000 members of the HDP - the second-largest opposition party in Turkish parliament - convened for a congress in Ankara on Sunday to select new party heads.

Parliamentary deputy speaker Pervin Buldan and former member of parliament Sezai Temelli were elected to take the helm, finalizing a changing of the guard that comes as the HDP prepares for parliamentary elections planned for the coming year.

Demirtas had announced in January his intention to step down.

From a prison in north-western Turkey‘s Edirne, he imparted a message on Sunday that he was asked to stand again for the party‘s leadership but that he considered it "a political and moral responsibility" to hand over the party reins.

Until his imprisonment on terror allegations in November 2016, the 43-year-old Demirtas was Erdogan‘s most profiled political opponent.

Under Demirtas and his former co-chair Figen Yuksekdag, the HDP cleared the 10-per-cent hurdle for the first time in 2015 elections and entered parliament.

The HDP leadership used the congress to criticize Turkish policies under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ongoing military operation in north-western Syria.

The chief of the Left faction in European Parliament, Gabi Zimmer, and Leftist EU lawmaker Martina Michels took part in the congress as members of an international solidarity delegation.

Turkish authorities on Friday issued arrest warrants for Serpil Kemalbay, Demirtas‘s co-leader, and 16 others for "inciting conflict" over calls for protests against the ongoing Turkish military offensive in the Syrian-Kurdish enclave of Afrin.

Eight were detained on Friday, but Kemalbay has so far remained free.

At the congress, Kemalbay sent greetings to Demirtas and called for resistance against the "one-man regime" in Turkey.

The Turkish government alleges that the HDP, which remains legal, has links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers‘ Party (PKK), an armed group.

The HDP says it is independent.

Seven members of parliament from HDP have been stripped of their seats in the past year, and a number remain behind bars.

Thousands of HDP party members have been arrested.


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