ISTANBUL Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday he was in favor of lifting the immunity from prosecution of Kurdish deputies accused of links to militants, a move which would likely fuel tensions in the mainly Kurdish southeast.
The comments came just a week after hundreds of militants ended a hunger strike in jail in response to an appeal from their leader and the government signaled it was open to talks to end a conflict which has killed more than 40,000 people.
Kurdish members of parliament are the subject of frequent investigations by prosecutors but deputies are immune from prosecution while they are in office, unless the assembly votes in favor of lifting their immunity.
Reporters asked Erdogan about incidents where Kurdish MPs had reportedly clashed verbally with Turkish security forces, but he said he did not want to talk about individual incidents.
"Our decision will be in favor of lifting the immunity from prosecution of those individuals who hide behind that immunity. After that it's up to the judiciary," he told a news conference before departing on a visit to Spain.
"I believe there should be a very different practice in parliament for those who take on the guise of being an extension of the separatist terrorist organization," Erdogan said, saying there were 800 such cases currently before parliament.
Among the most notable recent cases, a prosecutor called for 10 Kurdish deputies to be investigated on charges of aiding a terrorist group after they were filmed embracing militants at an impromptu roadside meeting.
The incident happened in August when Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants set up a roadblock and stopped a Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) convoy in southeast Turkey.
Kurdish politicians, including those from the BDP, are frequently prosecuted for alleged links to the PKK, but deny ties with the militants. Previous Kurdish parties similar to the BDP have been closed down for such links.
The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, launched its insurgency 28 years ago and more than 40,000 people have since been killed.
(Writing by Daren Butler)