ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s parliament on Friday approved a bill to amend the constitution to strip lawmakers of immunity, a move that paves the way for trials of several pro-Kurdish and other legislators.
A total of 376 deputies in the 550-seat assembly in Ankara voted in favor of the government-backed bill, which was enough to avoid a referendum. It now needs to be ratified by the president.
The amendment was proposed by the Justice and Development Party after the president accused the pro-Kurdish party, People’s Democratic Party, HDP, of being an arm of outlawed Kurdish rebels and repeatedly called for their prosecution on terror related charges. It puts 138 lawmakers, the vast majority of them from two opposition parties, at risk of prosecution.
Speaking in the Black Sea town of Rize moments ahead of the final round of voting, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed hope the bill would be adopted, saying “my people don’t want to see criminal deputies in parliament.”
The decision coincides with a wave of violence in Turkey’s southeast following the collapse of a more than 2-year peace process between the state and the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK.
The HDP, which backs Kurdish and other minority rights, denies accusations that it is the political arm of the PKK, considered a terrorist group by Ankara and its allies. The party has urged the government to end security operations in the southeast and to resume peace efforts.
Turkey has a history of excluding Kurds from politics and critics see the bill as an effort to wipe out the pro-Kurdish party at a time when the president is trying to push forward other controversial reforms, including a constitutional amendment to transform Turkey into a presidential system.
Out of 667 legal files, 405 are against the HDP and 102 concern members of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), according to a Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
The result of the vote caused alarm in Germany where government spokesman Steffen Seibert expressed concern “about the increasing polarization of the domestic debate in Turkey” and said it would be a topic of discussion in an upcoming meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Turkish counterpart.
Separately, Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement “lawmakers who express criticism (of the government) must not be subject to criminal prosecution. If Turkey wants to become a member of the European Union it mustn’t hollow out the rule of law.”
Turkey and the EU are working together to address the migrant crisis despite a series of controversies relating to human rights and press freedom in Turkey that have put pressure on their relationship.
The NATO member is also part of the U.S.-led alliance against the Islamic State group.
Frank Jordans and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.