ANKARA – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused Europe on Sunday of abetting terrorism by supporting Kurdish militants and said he did not care if it called him a dictator.
Turkey drew international condemnation for the arrest on Friday of leaders and lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the second-largest opposition grouping in parliament, as part of a terrorism investigation.
The government accuses the HDP, which made history last year by becoming the first Kurdish party to win 10 percent of the vote and enter parliament, of financing and supporting an armed Kurdish insurgency, which it denies.
The HDP announced a partial boycott of parliament on Sunday, saying it was “halting its legislative efforts” and that its deputies would stop participating in sessions of the legislature or meetings of parliamentary commissions.
The action against the HDP has heightened concern among Western allies about the state of democracy in Turkey, a NATO member which aspires to join the European Union and which is a buffer between Europe and the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
More than 110,000 officials – from soldiers and judges to teachers and journalists – have been detained or suspended since a failed military coup in July, in what Erdogan‘s critics say is a crackdown on all forms of dissent.
“I don’t care if they call me dictator or whatever else, it goes in one ear, out the other. What matters is what my people call me,” Erdogan said in a speech at an Istanbul university, where he was receiving an honorary doctorate.
Erdogan and the government are furious at what they see as Western criticism of their fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which has waged a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy and whose allied groups in Syria enjoy U.S. support in the fight against Islamic State.
Erdogan said the PKK, listed as a terrorist group by the European Union and United States, had killed almost 800 members of the security forces and more than 300 civilians since a ceasefire in the largely Kurdish southeast collapsed last year.
A PKK offshoot claimed responsibility for a car bomb in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir on Friday which killed 11 and wounded at least 100 hours after the HDP detentions, according to a website close to the militants. Islamic State had also claimed the attack, according to the group’s Amaq news agency.
“Europe, as a whole, is abetting terrorism. Even though they declared the PKK a terrorist organisation, this is clear,” Erdogan said. “We see how the PKK can act so freely and comfortably in Europe.”
Turkey’s EU Minister Omer Celik has called European ambassadors to a meeting in Ankara on Monday to brief them on the latest developments, a statement from his ministry said.
“TURN BACK WHILE YOU CAN”
The United States expressed deep concern, while Germany and Denmark summoned Turkish diplomats over the Kurdish arrests. European Parliament President Martin Schulz said the actions “call into question the basis for the sustainable relationship between the EU and Turkey”.
“After discussions with our parliamentary group and our central executive board, we have decided to halt our legislative efforts in light of everything that has happened,” HDP spokesman Ayhan Bilgen said in a statement read out in front of the party’s offices in Diyarbakir and broadcast online.
HDP officials would consult with the party’s supporters, many of whom are in the largely Kurdish southeast, and could then consider a full withdrawal from parliament, he said.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the HDP had been funding terrorism and that “not only those bombing and burning, but also those supporting terror” would pay the price. The party’s deputies would be betraying the people if they failed to attend parliament sessions, he said.
“For years, we called on you to say you are against terror and terrorist organisations. You would not listen … For years, they transferred the money we sent for the municipalities to terror,” Yildirim said in a televised speech.
“Turn back from this road while it’s still possible … Come to parliament and say what you have to say,” he said.
In an earlier speech on Sunday, he vowed Turkey would pursue its campaign against all groups it considers “terrorists”, including the PKK and its allies. Turkey launched a military incursion into Syria in August to push Islamic State militants from its border and stop Kurdish fighters gaining ground.
“The more we continue our fight, the more we see them squealing. No matter what they say, this battle will continue until our red crescent and starred flag waves across every province,” he said.
“Let all of their supporters know this, inside and outside Turkey.”