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Turkish Speaker May Broker Imprisoned Lawmakers’ Release

Turkish parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek met with opposition lawmakers to help broker the release of eight politicians who were elected to the assembly while in jail awaiting trial on charges of terrorism and plotting coups.

Deputies from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, the Nationalist Action Party and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party convened at the speaker’s office today in Ankara to submit proposals that would allow the politicians, elected June 12, to join the National Assembly pending their trials, a spokesman for Cicek said in a telephone interview. Since the vote, the opposition and the government have clashed over the issue of freeing the six men and two women.

The speaker said yesterday that while he is working to release them, other assembly members must get serious about the issue, stop politicking and find solutions. The governing Justice and Development Party, which controls 326 seats in the 550-member parliament, “respects” Cicek’s initiative and will review opposition suggestions to end the 10-month standoff, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

“This is not Justice and Development’s problem, it’s their problem,” Erdogan told reporters yesterday, referring to the opposition. “Never forget that leading up to the elections they tried back-door methods, knowing full well that these people couldn’t become lawmakers. These aren’t democratic ways.”

The jailed politicians include republicans Mustafa Balbay and Mehmet Haberal, and nationalist Engin Alan, who are imprisoned in connection with the so-called Ergenekon and Balyoz, or Sledgehammer, cases of defendants charged with plotting to overthrow Erdogan. The main opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, says the prosecutions are a “witch hunt” against the government’s opponents.

Pro-Kurdish Politicians

The pro-Kurdish politicians are in jail in connection with an investigation of the Union of Communities in Kurdistan, or KCK, which prosecutors say is the urban arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Known as the PKK and listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union, the party’s fight for autonomy in the southeast has cost more than 40,000 lives since 1984.

During their meeting with Cicek, republicans proposed a two-year cap on lawmakers’ jail time, nationalists suggested freeing all deputies except those charged with separatism, and pro-Kurdish parliamentarians promoted legislation barring the imprisonment of elected representatives, the NTV news channel reported. Under the nationalists’ proposal, pro-Kurdish lawmakers wouldn’t be released, the Istanbul-based channel said.

Cicek will meet with opposition lawmakers for follow-up discussions after April 23, his office said, according to the state-run Anatolia news agency.

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