ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s interior minister said on Thursday he had banned local officials from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) from attending Turkish soldiers’ funerals, accusing the party of supporting outlawed Kurdish militants.
The move comes days after President Tayyip Erdogan won a new five-year term and his ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party and its nationalist allies secured a parliamentary majority in elections that laid bare Turkey’s deep political divisions.
It suggests Erdogan, who has just gained sweeping new powers under a revamped constitution, will continue to take a tough line on the Kurdish issue and on any political parties he perceives as favouring a more lenient approach.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said CHP provincial chiefs would be barred from attending soldiers’ funerals - a fairly regular occurrence in Turkey due to its decades-long struggle against militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Soylu suggested CHP officials should instead go to funerals of PKK militants killed by Turkish forces.
“We carry these (PKK) carcasses very often. We’ll allocate a spot for them (the CHP at such funerals),” he told reporters.
Erdogan accused the secularist CHP during the election campaign of supporting the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which Ankara says is the political arm of the PKK. The HDP, whose leader is in jail awaiting trial on terrorism-related charges, denies direct ties to the militants.
Some CHP voters said ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary election that they would back the HDP to ensure the pro-Kurdish party exceeded the 10 percent threshold required to enter Turkey’s parliament. The HDP received nearly 12 percent.
CHP spokesman Bulent Tezcan reacted angrily to Soylu’s funeral ban.
“This is a polarizing statement that divides the public and incites conflict,” he said, adding that Soylu should resign.
Soylu also turned his fire on Thursday on the HDP, accusing it of being behind the murder of an AK Party ballot box observer in Sunday’s election - a charge angrily rejected by the HDP.
Images of the observer, a shopkeeper in the eastern province of Agri, have circulated in Turkish media showing his body tied to an electric pole. State-run Anadolu news agency said a note had been found by the body saying: “He was killed because he had spied for the state since 2015”.
Commenting on the murder, Soylu said the HDP was using PKK militants to avenge a decline in its share of the vote in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.
HDP co-leader Pervin Buldan said on Wednesday Soylu had called her to make what she said were “unacceptable” threats.
She cited Soylu as saying “we will show you all (in the HDP) your place... You are responsible (for the murder), go wherever you want - either to the CHP or to Europe”.
Soylu on Thursday confirmed making the comments. The HDP said it had filed a criminal complaint against him.
The PKK, viewed as a terrorist organisation by Ankara and its NATO allies, has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since the 1980s. Some 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Editing by Gareth Jones