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Turkish Court Upholds Convictions for 4 Leaders of Pro-Kurdish Party - 2003-09-29

A Turkish appeals court has upheld the convictions of four leaders of the country's largest pro-Kurdish party on charges of forging registration documents before contesting nationwide parliamentary polls held in November 2002. The move could change the balance of power in the parliament and even trigger new elections.

Attention in Ankara now centers on Turkey's supreme electoral board, which has the final say on whether new elections are required as a result of the alleged fraud.

Should the board rule in favor of a new vote, analysts say, Turkey's fragile economy could once again be put at risk. So, too, would a set of groundbreaking democratic reforms adopted by the current parliament to ease the country's membership in the European Union.

The move follows the sentencing in June by a lower court of Mehmet Abbasoglu and three other top officials to nearly two years in jail for forging documents intended to prove that their newly established Democratic People's Party had completed all required paperwork ahead of the November polls.

In a separate case, the Democratic People's Party is facing closure over charges that it is acting as the political arm of the separatist Kurdish rebel group called PKK/KADEK.

Democratic People's Party officials deny both charges, claiming they are part of a sustained campaign of pressure against the country's estimated 14 million Kurds. Earlier this year the constitutional court banned another pro-Kurdish group, Hadep, on similar grounds.

Analysts say the electoral board now has three options. One is to invalidate the elections that gave Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party a firm majority. The only other party to clear the 10 percent national threshold required to hold parliamentary seats was the main opposition, pro-secular Republican People's Party.

Another option would be for the electoral board to nullify votes cast in favor of the pro-Kurdish group. In that case, analysts say, those votes could be redistributed, paving the way for the third runner-up in the polls, the conservative True Path Party, to win seats in the parliament.

But western diplomats say the most likely scenario is that the electoral board, to avoid disrupting political stability, would decide to uphold the election results.