Turkey’s justice minister Bekir Bozdag said on Wednesday that his government would begin working on plans to strip terrorist sympathisers of their citizenship.
“The president’s statement envisages a new rule,” Mr Bozdag said, referring to comments by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish leader. “Of course, the necessary work will be done.”
Mr Erdogan on Tuesday suggested that Turkey denaturalise “terror sympathisers”, referring to members of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), an armed separatist group. “We have to be resolute in taking all measures to incapacitate supporters of the terror organisation, including stripping them of their citizenship,” he said. “They cannot even be our citizens.”
The PKK, which Turkey, the US and the EU list as a terrorist group, resumed attacks against Turkish policemen and troops in the Kurdish south-east last summer, reigniting a conflict that has left more than 40,000 dead over three decades. A continuing crackdown by the Ankara government, which has not shied from deploying tanks and artillery in urban areas, has killed scores of insurgents, reducing parts of several Kurdish cities to rubble.
More than 250 civilians are believed to have died in the clashes, according to the International Crisis Group, a think-tank. Last week, Mr Erdogan said that over 5,000 PKK fighters had been “killed, wounded or captured” over the past eight months.
A pair of car bombings claimed by a PKK splinter group killed a total of 66 people in March. Turkey has also faced a series of suicide bombings by Isis. The latest of these killed five people on Istanbul’s busiest shopping street last month.
The plans floated by Mr Erdogan and Mr Bozdag are likely to attract controversy, especially given the Turkish leader’s broad definition of terror supporters. On Tuesday he said: “[those] who pose as academics, spies who identify themselves as journalists, an activist disguised as a politician . . . are no different from the terrorists who throw bombs”.
In March, three academics were arrested on terror charges for reading out a petition urging the government to suspend security operations in the south-east.
Under existing laws, the authorities do not have the power to revoke the citizenship of terrorists or terror sympathisers, said Riza Turmen, a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights.
Mr Bozdag’s statement also raises questions about possible rifts within the government, which is formally headed by Ahmet Davutoglu, the prime minister, but seemingly managed by the president.
On Tuesday, before leaving for a visit to Finland, Mr Davutoglu denied that the government was debating the proposals floated by Mr Erdogan.
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