Turkey's main pro-Kurdish party announced Sunday that it is withdrawing from parliament after the unprecedented arrests of nine of its lawmakers, including the party's two co-leaders.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim called on the HDP in a televised speech to "return from this mistake before it's too late," adding that they may say whatever they want in parliament "but no politician can be a shield to terror by abusing their position."
Turkey drew international condemnation Friday following the arrests of HDP co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag on terrorism-related charges, along with seven other lawmakers.
The arrests also heightened concern among Western allies about the state of democracy in Turkey, a NATO member which aspires to join the European Union.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Europe Sunday of supporting and arming the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and said he did not care if it called him a dictator.
"They (Western critics) should not preoccupy themselves for nothing. We know well who they are," Erdogan said. "We studied their history well. We know it well. I got to know them very well during my 14-year-old tenure as a prime minister and a president. I can now read them like an open book. I don't care if they call me a dictator or whatever else. It goes in one ear, out of the other."
The PKK has waged a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy and along with its allied groups in Syria enjoy U.S. support in the fight against Islamic State.
The pro-Kurdish HDP, which entered Turkish parliament last year as the country's third-largest party with 59 lawmakers, has denied being a front for the PKK.
The absence of its deputies could enable Erdogan to push through his vision of a presidential system which the HDP has always vehemently opposed.
Turkey has suspended more than 110,000 officials, from soldiers and judges to teachers and journalists, and has made some 35,000 arrests since a failed military coup in July, which Ankara blames on the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen.
Erdogan's critics, however, have said it is a crackdown on all forms of dissent.
Source: Voice of America