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Turkey sentences pro-Kurdish politicians to lengthy prison terms over deadly 2014 riots

FILE - Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015 file photo, Selahattin Demirtas, then leader of the pro Kurdish Democratic Party of Peoples (HDP)
FILE - Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015 file photo, Selahattin Demirtas, then leader of the pro Kurdish Democratic Party of Peoples (HDP) Copyright AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File
Copyright AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File
By Euronews with AP
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More than 100 people have faced trial in relation to a notorious incident that left 37 people dead.

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A Turkish court on Thursday sentenced dozens pro-Kurdish politicians to between nine and 30 years in prison over deadly riots in 2014 by Kurds were angered by what they perceived to be government inaction against the so-called Islamic State, or IS.

The incident occurred during IS's siege of the Syrian border town of Kobanî. 

The three days of clashes that broke out in October 2014 resulted in 37 deaths and left hundreds of others injured, including both police and civilians.

The protests were rallied by leaders of Turkey's pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, or HDP, who were frustrated by what they considered to be Turkish authorities' support for IS militants.

A total of 108 people were put on trial charged with various crimes, including the killings of the 37 victims and crimes against the integrity of the state.

Among the defendants were HDP's jailed former leaders, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, who were accused of organising the protests and of inciting violence.

Critics decried the trial as politically-motivated and part of a wider government crackdown on its pro-Kurdish opponents.

The court in Ankara convicted Yuksekdag of attempts against the unity of the state, of inciting criminal acts and of engaging in acts of violence. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison, state broadcaster TRT reported.

Supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Equality and Democracy Party (DEM) chant slogans during the Newroz celebrations in Istanbul.
Supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Equality and Democracy Party (DEM) chant slogans during the Newroz celebrations in Istanbul.Emrah Gurel/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved

Demirtas, who has run for presidency twice, received a total of 28 years and six months in prison.

The politicians are expected to appeal the verdicts.

At least 10 other defendants were acquitted of charges levelled against them.

The hearing took place in a tense atmosphere with lawyers banging on desks and leaving the courtroom to protest the verdicts, Cumhuriyet newspaper reported.

The crackdown

The government accused the HDP of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which is considered a terror organisation by Turkey, the US and the European Union. The group has led an armed insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 and the conflict has killed tens of thousands of people.

Government officials accused the HDP leaders of taking instructions from the PKK to stage the riots.

The government has frequently cracked down on the pro-Kurdish political movement, by stripping legislators of their parliamentary seats and removing elected mayors from office.

Several HDP lawmakers have been jailed alongside Demirtas and Yuksekdag on terror-related charges.

The party has since changed its name to the People's Equality and Democracy Party, or DEM, and is the third-largest grouping in Turkey's parliament.

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