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Kurdish Party Lawmakers Withdraw from Turkish Parliament

Lawmakers from Turkey's largest pro-Kurdish political party have withdrawn from parliament after the country's top court banned their party and two of its leaders for links to Kurdish separatist rebels.

Lawmakers from Turkey's largest pro-Kurdish political party have withdrawn from parliament after the country's top court banned their party and two of its leaders for links to Kurdish separatist rebels.

The Democratic Society Party (DTP) says all of its remaining 19 lawmakers withdrew from parliament Saturday and will not attend parliamentary sessions. 

Turkey's 11-member constitutional court unanimously ruled Friday that the political party was guilty of inciting violence and of links to the rebel group known as the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.  The DTP has denied those charges.

The court also banned lawmakers Ahmet Turk and Aysel Tugluk from politics for five years, along with 35 other party members.  Turk warned earlier this week that if the court ruled against his party, all of its 21 members of parliament would resign.

Kurdish demonstrators hurled stones at police in the city of Hakkari Saturday to protest the ruling.

Friday's ruling will likely complicate the Turkish government's efforts to reconcile with the Kurdish minority. 

DTP leader Turk said Friday that Turkey can not solve its problems by closing down parties.

The court decision comes as Turkey seeks to join the European Union.  On Friday, the EU's Swedish presidency issued a statement expressing concern over the ruling.  It says while the EU strongly denounces violence and terrorism, the dissolution of political parties "is an exceptional measure that should be used with utmost restraint."

A U.S. State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, called the ruling Turkey's internal matter, but added that the country should continue to advance political freedoms for all its citizens. The spokesman said measures that "limit or restrain these freedoms should be exercised with extreme caution."

Hours after the decision was announced, Kurdish protesters took to the streets in mainly Kurdish towns and threw stones at police, who responded with tear gas and water cannons.

PKK rebels have been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in southeastern Turkey for 25 years.  More than 40,000 people have died in that conflict.

The government has planned a number of reforms that would expand the rights of the Kurdish population.

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