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Turkish minister warns pro-Kurdish party it could face moves to ban it

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s justice minister warned the country’s main pro-Kurdish DEM party on Wednesday that it would face the risk of legal action, and even a closure case like its predecessor, if it did not distance itself from Kurdish militants.

DEM, parliament’s third largest party, was established last year as a successor to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which is facing the prospect of closure over alleged militant links in a court case following a years-long crackdown.

“In the past, closure cases were opened against parties for supporting terrorism,” Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc told reporters in Ankara, noting that some parties had been banned and that other cases were ongoing.

“Therefore, we say that if the DEM Party follows the same path, then it will face the same treatment,” he said. “We say keep your distance from terrorism if you do not want to face such a legal process.”

Another court had been expected to announce a verdict this month in a case trying jailed former HDP leaders and officials over 2014 protests triggered by an Islamic State attack on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani. That verdict was postponed.

“They should not wag their fingers at us. I repeat, the policy of closure, blackmail and threats is over,” DEM Party co-chair Tuncer Bakirhan said on Wednesday in the wake of a call from a government ally to ban the DEM Party.

Critics say Turkish courts are under the influence of the government and President Tayyip Erdogan, which he and his AK Party (AKP) deny.

Both prosecutors and the government accuse the HDP of ties to the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union. The HDP denies having any connections with terrorism.

The PKK launched an insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict. A peace process between Ankara and the PKK fell apart in 2015 and in a subsequent crackdown on the HDP thousands of its officials and members have been arrested and jailed.

(Reporting by Daren Butler, editing by Burcu Karakas and Alex Richardson)

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