November 4, 2016 / 8:58 AM / in 2 years

EU very worried by Turkey's arrests of Kurdish leaders

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini holds a joint news conference with Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallstrom (not pictured) at the government headquarters Rosenbad in Stockholm, Sweden, October 10, 2016. TT News Agency/Janerik Henriksson/via REUTERS

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is extremely worried by Turkey’s arrest of Kurdish opposition lawmakers and has called a meeting of EU national envoys in Ankara, its foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Friday.

Police raided the homes and detained the joint leaders of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the second-biggest opposition party in the national parliament, and nine other HDP lawmakers on Friday after they refused to give testimony about alleged crimes linked to “terrorist propaganda”.

“We expect Turkey to safeguard its parliamentary democracy, including respect for human rights and the rule of law, and we are conveying these expectations directly to the Turkish authorities,” Mogherini said in a statement with EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn. The arrests compromised Turkey’s parliamentary democracy, they said.

Police raided the houses of Figen Yuksekdag, HDP co-chairwoman, in Ankara, and Selahattin Demirtas, the other party leader, in Diyarbakir, a party spokeswoman told Reuters.

The EU is engaged in a delicate stage of its relationship with its big, Muslim neighbor. Since an agreement in March, Ankara has helped to all but end a flow of refugees and migrants to the EU via Turkey and Greece, although tens of thousands continue to arrive from North Africa via Italy.

In return, the EU is providing aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey, has pledged to revive Ankara’s long-stalled membership talks with the bloc and, significantly, promised to ease travel visa terms for Turks visiting Europe.

This latter concession, long on the table, has been delayed by disputes over whether Turkey has met a set of requirements that include modifying anti-terrorism laws. Turkey’s security crackdown after a coup attempt in July has alarmed EU leaders and further pushed back a final deal on the visa liberalization.

With elections looming over the next year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, where anti-immigration parties are doing well and oppose easing visas for Turks, diplomats say that Brussels is in no hurry to push Turkey into meeting the requirements to complete the deal — especially since the flow of migrants remains at limited, manageable levels.

However, there is concern in Brussels that hardline tactics in Ankara could generate reactions that destabilize a state which the EU sees a buffer between it and the Middle East.

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald, additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Gareth Jones and Mark Trevelyan

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