ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey moved swiftly on Tuesday to replace two ministers from a pro-Kurdish party who quit its interim government amid rising tensions after a ceasefire with Kurdish militants collapsed in July.
President Tayyip Erdogan has stepped up criticism of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) since it won 13 percent of the vote in June polls, depriving the AK Party (AKP) of an overall majority for the first time since 2002.
With a re-run of the vote set for Nov. 1, Erdogan, who founded the AKP, has accused the HDP opposition of links to fighters of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), deemed a terrorist organization by both Washington and Ankara.
The HDP condemns the violence in the southeast and denies backing the PKK.
The Turkish military has resumed attacks on Kurdish militant camps in northern Iraq since the fragile ceasefire collapsed. At least 100 soldiers and hundreds of PKK have been killed.
On Tuesday, Turkey’s only two HDP cabinet ministers, EU Minister Ali Haydar Konca and Development Minister Muslum Dogan, said they would resign from Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s month-old caretaker government.
Konca told a news conference the two faced difficulties that prevented them carrying out ministerial duties, adding that the interior minister had not been receptive to their concerns about a security crisis in the largely Kurdish town of Cizre.
Cizre, near Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq, has become a flashpoint in two months of deepening violence in the largely Kurdish southeast.
The HDP said this month that more than 20 civilians had been killed in security operations there, while the government said it had killed as many as 32 militants and one civilian.
While Davutoglu’s caretaker government was set up as an interim arrangement to steer the country toward Nov.1 elections, the sudden departure of its only two HDP ministers is likely to underscore concerns about widening polarization in Turkey.
Davutoglu moved swiftly to fill the void left by the outgoing ministers, appointing replacements described as independents late on Tuesday.
Cuneyd Duzyol, under-secretary at the development ministry, was promoted to minister, while the EU job went to a female professor at Istanbul’s Galatasaray University, Beril Dedeoglu.
Opinion polls suggest the HDP will again clear the 10 percent threshold for representation in parliament, reducing the AKP’s hopes of securing an overall majority on its second try.
A succession of Kurdish parties have been banned by courts over the years in Turkey. The HDP, however, has succeeded in widening its support base, bringing in non-Kurds opposed to Erdogan and disillusioned with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
At a rally over the weekend, Erdogan implored supporters to back only “domestic” candidates in November, in what was widely seen as an attack on those sympathetic to the Kurdish minority.
Additional reporting by Can Sezer in Istanbul; Writing by David Dolan and Jonny Hogg; Editing by Tom Heneghan