DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters)–Turkish authorities have arrested nine members of a pro-Kurdish political party for referring to Kurdish separatist rebels as "martyrs", security sources said on Sunday.
The nine are members of the Democratic Society Party (DTP), which campaigns for more political and cultural rights for Turkey’s large ethnic Kurdish minority. The DTP won 20 seats in Turkey’s parliament in July general elections.
If convicted, they could face several years in jail under Turkey’s penal code for praising and supporting terrorism.
Ankara blames members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since it launched its armed struggle for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.
Turkey routinely uses the word "martyr" to describe soldiers and other security personnel killed in clashes with the PKK.
The nine men came from provinces in the southeast, said the security sources in Diyarbakir, the region’s biggest city.
In a further sign of continued tensions between Ankara and the country’s Kurds, DTP lawmaker Sabahat Tuncel rejected on Sunday an appeal from Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan that her party condemn the PKK as a terrorist organisation.
"Nobody should expect us to call our children terrorists," she told a gathering in the southeastern town of Batman.
"We want to live in these lands keeping our own differences. This is the first time the Kurds are represented to this degree (in parliament). The ruling party must assess properly this chance," Tuncel said in televised remarks.
Many Turks regard the DTP as a mouthpiece for the PKK rebels. The DTP insists it wants a peaceful, political resolution of the Kurdish issue.
Erdogan’s centre-right government has eased restrictions on the Kurdish language and culture in recent years, in line with deman’s from the European Union that Ankara hopes to join. But the DTP says the reforms do not go nearly far enough.
Turkey’s new president, Abdullah Gul, a former foreign minister in the AK Party government, will visit the impoverished southeast region this week, his first official trip out of Ankara since parliament elected him head of state two weeks ago.