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article imageJailed Kurdish leader laments 'unfairness' of Turkey polls

By Raziye Akkoc (AFP)     May 14, 2018 in World

Turkey's jailed former pro-Kurdish party leader Selahattin Demirtas lambasted the "unfairness" of his campaign conditions for June elections but said he was ready to rally voters from prison.

Demirtas, the charismatic ex-chief of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), is running against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the June 24 polls despite being held in jail for the last one-and-a-half years.

He previously ran against Erdogan in August 2014 -- winning nearly 10 percent of votes -- and led the HDP into parliament for the first time in June 2015.

Demirtas, 45, said in written responses to AFP questions delivered via his lawyers that he was forced to campaign from his cell, in marked contrast to Erdogan who has the state resources at his disposal.

"This creates absolute injustice and unfairness," he said.

He said the authorities "will be able to ban every gathering, news, media channels they want using the state of emergency" implemented after the 2016 failed coup.

But Demirtas vowed he "will try to campaign from a cell" and send messages from prison to support the campaign.

His comments were made before the party launched its manifesto on Monday in Ankara, where Demirtas vowed he would immediately lift the state of emergency if elected.

Turkey has already come under heavy criticism from its Western allies and activists over the state of emergency, with the United Nations rights chief saying last week the upcoming elections would not be "credible".

- 'Political hostage taking' -

Basak Demirtas (C)  wife of Selahattin Demirtas  who has been in jail for a year and a half  is flan...
Basak Demirtas (C), wife of Selahattin Demirtas, who has been in jail for a year and a half, is flanked by women holding pictures of the Kurdish leader who is challenging Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the polls
Ilyas AKENGIN, AFP

Demirtas was first jailed alongside 11 other HDP lawmakers including Demirtas' then co-chief, Figen Yuksekdag, in November 2016 over alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

"My detention in prison is the result of a policy of political hostage-taking," Demirtas said.

The PKK has waged a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey since 1984 and is blacklisted as a terror organisation by Ankara and its Western allies.

Since then the HDP has come under intense pressure and thousands of its members have been detained over suspected terror links.

After Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) formed an alliance earlier this year, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) formed its own alliance with the newest IYI (Good) Party and two smaller parties, not including the HDP.

But Demirtas said he believed the party can "emerge as a new government alternative".

A total of 11 HDP lawmakers have been stripped of their MP status, including Yuksekdag, while nine MPs remain in jail.

Ankara claims the HDP is a political front for the PKK but the party says that it is being targeted because of its strong opposition to Erdogan.

Demirtas said it was "clear (Erdogan) wouldn't take any positive step" on the issue of Turkey's Kurds, by far the biggest minority ethnic group in the country.

"Erdogan will continue to take Turkey backwards on not just the Kurdish issue, but on democracy and freedom. If Erdogan has a dream of freedom, it relates to his own freedom."

- 'Not deaf to expectations' -

In his election manifesto published on Monday, Demirtas said he would be a president to end one-man rule.

After Ankara's tensions with the United States over multiple issues including Syria and strains with the European Union, Demirtas said his foreign policy would solve problems through dialogue.

Following the June polls, Turkey's parliamentary system will transform into an executive presidency after constitutional changes expanding the president's powers were approved in a referendum in April 2017.

In his manifesto, Demirtas suggested he would keep the parliamentary system intact.

Demirtas in January had signalled an end to his political career. But he told AFP his party wanted him to run and he "could not be deaf to (their) expectations".

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