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Turkey's Banning of Pro-Kurd Party Raises Questions about Reform Process

In what some analysts see as a blow to Turkey's democratic reform process, the country's constitutional court banned the largest pro-Kurdish party earlier this month, saying it was acting as a front for Kurdish separatist rebels.

The party's emblem, a butterfly, has been removed from the building that used to be the headquarters of the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party, better known as Hadep. The party did not run in the recent parliamentary election, but its members hold local office in several parts of the country.

The banned party's chairman, Ahmet Turan Demir, is angry. He described the decision to outlaw the pro-Kurdish group as "political."

Mr. Demir insists that charges that the party was the political arm of the Kurdish rebel group known as the PKK, are simply not true. The rebel group waged a 15-year-long separatist insurgency in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeastern provinces.

Several Kurdish political parties have been banned and re-emerged under different names many times over the years. Mr. Demir said the decision to ban Hadep is a worrying sign that Turkey's government is not ready to allow the country's 12 million Kurds to freely exercise their political rights.

Mr. Demir believes that Turkey's decision to outlaw Hadep, and to launch closure proceedings against another pro-Kurdish group known as Dehap on similar grounds, is aimed at intimidating the Kurds as Turkish troops make plans to enter Kurdish controlled Northern Iraq.

Turkey says the move is intended to block a potential wave of refugees from the war in Iraq. But many Kurds believe that Turkey's main purpose would be to eliminate about 5,000 Kurdish rebels based in the area.

Iraqi Kurdish groups administer an enclave in Northern Iraq, and have vowed to resist Turkish troops militarily if need be, saying their presence will invite intervention from Iranian forces and further destabilize their volatile region. The Bush Administration is also opposed to any large Turkish military presence in northern Iraq.

President Bush's special envoy for the Iraqi opposition, Zalmay Khalilzad, held talks with Turkish officials in Ankara to work out a formula that would satisfy both Turks and Kurds, but there has been no agreement.

Hadep party leader Ahmet Turan Demir said a Turkish military intervention in northern Iraq could have negative consequences for all parties concerned.

Mr. Demir said violence between Turkish and Kurdish forces in northern Iraq could spread into Turkey as well.

He says another worry is that Turkey's recent crackdown on Kurdish groups could further jeopardize the country's bid to join the European Union.

The European Union is demanding, among other things, that Turkey grant the Kurds broader cultural rights as a precondition for launching membership talks. Last year, the Turkish parliament approved a set of constitutional reforms that eased bans on broadcasting in the Kurdish language and teaching it as a foreign language in privately run courses. The Turkish government says it is committed to the reform process.

But Mr. Demir said implementation of those reforms has been slow, and that the banning of his party will set back the whole process.