Kurds call for ‘no’ in referendum

Kurds call for ‘no’ in referendum

Kurdish Newroz celebrations often carry a political message.

Kurdish spring celebrations have merged into peaceful protests against the referendum to expand the powers of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Thousands celebrated the Newroz festival in Istanbul and in Diyarbakir, a mainly Kurdish city, where militant attacks are common. Posters and flags reading “No” in Turkish and Kurdish referred to Erdogan’s bid to boost his already extensive powers in the April 16 referendum.

Kurds traditionally use the spring festival to demand increased rights.

Human Rights Watch is accusing the authorities of jailing 13 MPs from the pro-Kurdish opposition and having taken direct control of 82 municipal councils in the Kurdish southeast, suspending and jailing elected mayors.

Flags were displayed of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), whose leaders have been arrested under anti-terror laws on suspected links to militants.

The HDP is the nation’s third-largest party and is campaigning against the referendum.

“It’s deeply damaging to Turkey’s democracy that the government is locking up the leaders and MPs of an opposition party that received 5 million votes in the last election,” said Hugh Williamson, HRW’s regional director. “The fact that the curbs come during a vital national debate about the country’s future is doubly disturbing.”

Erdogan claims an “executive presidency” will stabilise Turkey amid a strong of economic, security and political crises, while the opposition sees it as securing authoritarian rule.

The jailing of MPs is possible because of a temporary constitutional change, approved by parliament last May, that lifted the parliamentary immunity of 154 members under criminal investigation. Of them, 55 were HDP members. The changes do not apply to members investigated after the May vote was taken, who retain their immunity as long as they are in office.

In Diyarbakir a few Kurds displayed pictures of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting an intermittent insurgency since 1984.

The Diyarbakir police mostly kept away from the gathering, allowing Kurdish guards to search people and keep order. Kurds performed traditional dances and lit a large bonfire.

The police shot dead a man who tried to flee the scene after being discovered with a knife, the Dogan news agency reported.

The Newroz “new year” celebration is marked in Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Iran.

Picture credit: Wikimedia

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