January 6, 2016 / 2:47 PM / 4 years ago

Turkey's Erdogan widens call for legal action against pro-Kurdish opposition

* Erdogan says Turkey has problem with terrorism, not Kurds

* Says pro-Kurdish politicians should face legal action

* Tanks pound town of Cizre as fighting intensifies

* Opposition HDP says dozens of civilians killed

By Humeyra Pamuk and Melih Aslan

ISTANBUL, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday some lawmakers and local mayors from the pro-Kurdish opposition were behaving like members of a terrorist organisation and renewed his call for legal action against them.

The predominantly Kurdish southeast has sunk into its worst violence since the 1990s after a two-year ceasefire between Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants, who are fighting for greater autonomy, and the state collapsed last July.

Erdogan and the government accuse the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), parliament’s third-biggest grouping, of being an extension of the PKK. The HDP says it is opposed to violence and wants a peaceful solution for Turkey’s Kurds.

“In Turkey there is no Kurdish issue but a terrorism issue. All ethnic minorities have problems of their own and we have always tried to solve these,” Erdogan said in a speech to elected neighbourhood administrators.

More Kurdish politicians were likely to be prosecuted, he said, urging the authorities to treat them on equal terms as members of the PKK, deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

“I believe parliament and the judiciary are obliged to act against lawmakers who behave like members of the terrorist organisation,” he said, although he said he was opposed to closing political parties down.

“Titles like lawmaker, mayor or head of a party can’t save anyone from being held accountable before the law if they have sided with the terrorist organisation.”

Clashes have intensified in recent days as a large-scale military campaign entered its fourth week. Residents have complained the operations are indiscriminate and that round-the-clock curfews have left even the sick unable to get to hospital.

DOZENS FLEE

Turkish tanks on hills around Cizre, a town bordering Iraq which has seen some of the heaviest fighting, pounded targets inside the city on Wednesday as dozens of people including children left with bags and luggage, Reuters TV footage showed.

The authorities say the military campaign is targeting PKK militants not civilians, and that it was launched in response to attacks on the security forces.

A soldier died from his injuries on Wednesday after coming under attack by militants in the province of Sirnak. A police officer was wounded in a bomb attack elsewhere in the province.

Erdogan urged parliament last July to lift the immunity of politicians with suspected links to militants after a prosecutor launched an investigation into HDP co-head Selahattin Demirtas, a call he repeated on Wednesday.

“Whatever the law orders for other members of the terrorist organisation, the same mechanisms should be in place for these people. Immunity is an exception to serve the people better, not to be used as a shield for the terrorist organisation.”

An investigation into Demirtas was launched in late December after he made comments in favour of local Kurdish self-rule, something Ankara has long opposed.

Erdogan said a total of 3,100 PKK militants and 200 security personnel were killed in clashes last year. An HDP-linked group said on Wednesday 215 civilians had been killed in fighting since July.

Additional reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu in Ankara, Seyhmus Cakan in Diyarbakir; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Nick Tattersall

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