Turkey's constitutional court on Thursday banned the country's largest pro-Kurdish party (HADEP) on charges of acting as the political wing of a banned separatist rebel group.

The court's chief judge, Mustafa Bumin, said the pro-Kurdish group had, in his words, become the focal point of activities against the state's indivisible unity by aiding and abetting the Kurdish rebel group (PKK).

In addition to banning HADEP, the court ordered the group's assets seized, and imposed a five-year political ban on 46 of its members, including former party chairman Murat Bozlak.

Just as Mr. Bumin was announcing the ruling against HADEP, the country's chief prosecutor, Sabih Kanadoglu, began action to close another pro-Kurdish group, DEHAP, saying it constituted a threat to Turkey's democracy.

Both parties, which command wide support in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast provinces, deny the charges.

Hasip Kaplan, a senior DEHAP official, told VOA that Thursday's ruling proved that the Turkish government was insincere about meeting the Kurds' demands for greater political and cultural rights.

Analysts say the move marks a reversal from earlier attempts by the country's parliament to enact wide-ranging reforms, aimed at securing Turkey's membership in the European Union.

These included lifting the death penalty and easing bans on broadcasting and teaching the Kurdish language.

Dogu Ergil, a leading expert on Kurdish and Middle Eastern affairs at Ankara University, says Thursday's ban will further weaken Turkey's prospects of joining the European Union. What is even more damaging, he says, is that it will rekindle tensions in the Kurdish-dominated region. An atmosphere of relative peace has prevailed in the southeastern provinces ever since PKK rebels called off their 15-year-long armed campaign in 1999.

That was after their leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured and sentenced to death by a Turkish court. The guerrilla leader, whose sentence was commuted to lifetime imprisonment, is the sole inmate of an island prison off the coast of Istanbul. Lawyers and relatives of Ocalan say they have been denied access to him since November 27. Turkish authorities cite weather conditions.

Ocalan's brother, Osman, who now leads PKK fighters based in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, has accused the government of lying. He has threatened to resume the war if Ocalan's isolation continues.

This week, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ocalan did not receive a fair trial in Turkey. The decision is not binding, but could put Turkey under pressure to re-try him. Turkish officials say Ankara will appeal the decision.