Turkish parliament strips status of two more pro-Kurdish lawmakers

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s parliament stripped two pro-Kurdish lawmakers of their parliamentary status on Thursday, further reducing the presence of the HDP, the second-largest opposition party in the general assembly.

The government says the HDP is an affiliate of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged an armed insurgency in the largely Kurdish southeast for more than three decades. The HDP denies direct links to the PKK.

The move to strip Tugba Hezer and Faysal Sariyildiz of their status was read out in parliament after an appeal to remove their membership was submitted and voted on.

The two were removed on grounds of “discontinuity”, or missing general assembly meetings, bringing the number of seats occupied by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to 55 in the 550-seat assembly.

The HDP had 59 lawmakers elected to parliament in the November 2015 general election but has since lost four members.

“This will go down as a battle for democracy, and in yours as a black stain. We will continue to make politics, whether in jail or in parliament,” said Filiz Kerestecioglu, a lawmaker for the HDP.

In February, parliament stripped Figen Yuksekdag, one of the HDP’s two leaders, of her membership. Her co-leader Selahattin Demirtas was jailed, and Yuksekdag was subsequently replaced as co-chair.

Nursel Aydogan, another HDP lawmaker, was also stripped of her parliamentary status in May because she faced charges including membership of a terrorist organisation.

Thursday’s move comes amid growing concern among opposition parties, human rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies that President Tayyip Erdogan is using a crackdown on suspected supporters of last year’s failed military coup to stifle all dissent.

Since the failed coup, some 50,000 people have been arrested and more than 150,000 have been sacked or suspended from the military, civil service and private sector.

Reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Hugh Lawson