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Last Updated:  Friday, 14 March, 2003, 16:44 GMT
Turkey's Kurd party ban criticised
Turkish Kurds
Dehap is also under the threat of a ban
The European Union has criticised Turkey's decision to ban the country's main pro-Kurdish party, saying the decision hampers efforts to speed up political reform in the country.

The Turkish High Court banned the People's Democracy Party (Hadep) on Thursday for its alleged links to Kurdish separatists in the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The court has also warned that the party under whose umbrella Hadep stood in November's elections, the Democratic People's Party (Dehap), was under threat of a ban.

An EU spokesman said that the decision was a setback which "goes against the spirit" of reform partially instigated by the country's bid to enter the EU.

"We have doubts whether this verdict is compatible with the sort of pluralistic vision that characterises a modern democracy," he added.

Appeal planned

The European Union has been urging Turkey to grant greater rights to the Kurds, who make up more than a fifth of the country's 67 million-strong population.

Turkish Kurds
Ocalan is currently serving a life sentence in prison

Hadep, formed in 1994 to represent Kurdish rights in Turkey through political means, denies links with the PKK - which has since renamed itself Kadek - and says that it has suffered harassment from the Turkish Government.

It is particularly popular in the mainly Kurdish south-east of the country.

Hadep President Ahmet Turan Demir condemned the decision, saying the Turkish Government was using the current Iraqi crisis as an excuse to crack down on democratic institutions.

"On the eve of war... Turkey wants to do some reorganising at home," he told French news agency AFP.

"Without a doubt, there is a link between the ban on Hadep and the preparations for a war in Iraq."

Mr Demir said that the party planned to appeal against the ruling at the European Court of Human Rights.

Ocalan case

Turkey is already facing criticism after the European Court ruled on Wednesday that the country had violated the human rights of jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Ocalan, former leader of the PKK, was originally sentenced to death in June 1999 for his role in a 16-year guerrilla war against the Turkish authorities in which more than 30,000 people were killed.

The court ruled that Ocalan, whose death sentence was converted to life in prison and who is now the sole inmate on the prison island of Imrali, did not receive a fair trial.

The ruling is not binding, but Turkey will come under immense pressure to hold a retrial if the European Court's 17-member Grand Chamber upholds the verdict on appeal.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said at the time that the European Court had not "thoroughly considered" aspects of the case and that the judges' reasoning was therefore not "sound".

A people divided by borders
21 Nov 00 |  Europe
In-depth: The trial of Ocalan
12 Mar 03 |  Europe

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