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Pro-Kurdish Political Figures in Turkey Join Hunger Strike

FILE - A supporter holds a portrait of Selahattin Demirtas, detained leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples' Democratic Party, at a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Nov. 8, 2016.

Leaders of Turkey's largest pro-Kurdish political party said they began a hunger strike Friday to protest prison conditions, joining other inmates who have been refusing to take solid food for up to 40 days.

Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chair of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), and his deputy, Abdullah Zeydan, have been jailed since November in the northwestern province of Edirne after refusing to testify in a probe linked to “terrorist propaganda.” HDP members make up the third-largest bloc in Turkey's parliament.

Also jailed are HDP co-leader Figen Yuksekdag and 10 other lawmakers from the party — all accused of ties to Kurdish militants. The HDP has denied any links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

HDP strongly opposes constitutional changes that will go before Turkish voters in a national referendum in mid-April.

Separately, Democratic Regions Party (DBP) co-chair Sebahat Tuncel, who is being held in Silivri Prison, said she and other detainees would join the hunger strike on Saturday.

HDP officials contend that up to 5,471 party officials have been detained since the July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, while DBP said 3,457 of its members have been held in pretrial detention since 2015.

Demirtaş and the HDP have accused the government of using the state of emergency that was imposed after the failed coup as a means of suppressing dissent.