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Turkish Parliament Considering Lifting Immunity for Kurd Deputies

FILE - Greeted by supporters, Selahattin Demirtas, leader of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democracy Party, smiles as he arrives at his party headquarters in Ankara, Turkey, June 9, 2015.

The Turkish parliament has begun the process of lifting the immunity of leading parliamentary deputies of the pro-Kurdish party.

Parliament is considering a motion by the ruling AKP to amend the constitution to ease immunity for parliamentary deputies.

The move is widely seen as aimed at the pro-Kurdish HDP, with its leading members facing charges of supporting terrorism.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said opposition parties have an obligation to support the move in the battle against terrorism. The reform is expected to easily pass in parliament, with the main opposition Republican People's Party supporting it.

Political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul’s Suleyman Sah University says it is widely expected the leading members of the Kurdish Party are likely to be prosecuted and jailed, a move he warns will have far-reaching consequences.

"Those who continue to call for peace, those who continue to call for dialogue, will again be sidelined and marginalized in Turkish politics; this will be the result. If, in the meantime, the remaining HDP parliamentarians leave the parliament, then it will be a major, major crisis," said Aktar.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the driving force for the prosecution of the pro-Kurdish deputies. He insists the deputies are no different than the PKK rebels the Turkish military is fighting in the country's predominantly Kurdish southeast.

Large parts of many towns and cities in the region have been destroyed in the crackdown, which observers say has alienated much of the population from the Turkish state.

That process will accelerate with the prosecution of the deputies, warns Kadri Gursel, a columnist for Al Monitor website and expert on the Kurdish conflict. Gursel says such a move comes at a time when it has never been more favorable for the PKK in its 30-year conflict with the Turkish state.

"As long as Turkey is at odds with other actors in the region, this creates favorable conditions for PKK to have foreign support. And PKK has unprecedented strategic depth in the region, stretching towards Iraq, Iran and Syria. And in Istanbul live 1.5 million Kurds; [Kurds] are spread all over Turkey. So it is an unmanageable situation," said Gursel.

In 1994, four Kurdish deputes were jailed on terrorism charges. Experts say the imprisonment resulted in a surge in support for the PKK and its armed struggle. Their imprisonment also saw Turkey being internationally isolated.

This latest move to prosecute pro-Kurdish deputies comes as the U.S. State Department and the European Parliament each expressed concern this week over the deteriorating human rights situation in Turkey.