Kurds to rally in Turkey ahead of key local elections

People's Democratic Party, or HDP, hopes to rally more votes for the secular opposition party in Turkey. (AFP/File)
Updated 24 March 2019

Kurds to rally in Turkey ahead of key local elections

  • Turkey imprisoned some Kurdish party members for links with militant groups
  • Kurdish militant organizations are listed as terrorist groups in Turkey and some Western countries

ISTANBUL: Thousands of supporters of a pro-Kurdish party gathered Sunday in Istanbul to celebrate the Kurdish New Year and to attend a campaign rally for local elections that will test the Turkish president’s popularity.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, held the event amid the municipal office races that have become polarizing and a government crackdown on its members for alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants.

Party lawmakers, including former chairman Selahattin Demirtas, and mayors have been jailed. Supporters at Sunday’s rally waved HDP flags and chanted slogans for Demirtas and the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

Security at Sunday’s event was heavy and police controlled the rally entrance, but the atmosphere was celebratory.

The Newroz fire, which symbolizes purification and the arrival of spring, was burning in Istanbul, following days of celebrations in southeastern Turkey.

The party has fielded candidates for the March 31 votes in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast but is sitting out critical races in Turkey’s major cities, including Istanbul and Ankara.

The strategy is intended to deliver HDP votes to Turkey’s main secular opposition Republican People’s Party so it can challenge Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party.

Millions of ethnic Kurds will vote in the elections. Erdogan, who is also campaigning for Kurdish votes, plans to hold a massive election rally near HDP’s on Sunday.

In the southeast, the party aims to win back control of municipalities that were seized by the government during a state of emergency declared after the 2016 failed coup. Government-appointed trustees replaced elected officials in nearly a hundred municipalities.

In October, Erdogan threatened not to accept such an outcome.

“If people involved with terror are chosen in the ballot boxes in these elections, we’ll immediately do what’s necessary and continue on our path by appointing trustees,” he said.

The government accuses HDP politicians of links to PKK, and Erdogan regularly brands them terrorists and traitors. The HDP does not deny such links but says it only advocates for Kurdish rights and democracy through legal, political means.

The PKK, considered a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies, has waged an insurgency since 1984 and the conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

A fragile cease-fire held for more than two years as the Turkish government, HDP politicians and the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, negotiated a peace process.

But the resumption of hostilities in the summer of 2015 brought clashes to southeastern cities where round-the-clock curfews were declared. Since then, at least 4,280 people have been killed, including civilians, according to the International Crisis Group.

A string of bomb attacks claimed by PKK and its offshoots hit Turkish cities in 2016 and 2017 and the country’s jets regularly strike PKK camps in the mountainous regions of northern Iraq.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 21 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”