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Kurdish lawmakers resign en masse from Turkish Parliament

By Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert, CNN
Turkish nationalists clash with Kurdish activists in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sunday.
Turkish nationalists clash with Kurdish activists in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sunday.
  • NEW: Kurdish lawmakers say they'll resign seats, days after court banned their party
  • NEW: Struggle may leave many voters without representation, European Commission says
  • Turkey's highest court banned DTP last week, calling it "focal point for terrorism"
  • Police, Kurdish protesters, and Turkish nationalists have clashed in streets recently

Istanbul, Turkey (CNN) -- Kurdish lawmakers announced Monday they would submit their resignations from Parliament, three days after Turkey's highest court banned their political party on charges that it was a "focal point for terrorism."

Ahmet Turk, the co-chairman of the now-defunct Democratic Society Party -- known by its initials in Turkish, DTP -- made the announcement in a statement to the media Monday evening in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir.

Last Friday's closure by the Constitutional Court stripped Turk and fellow co-chair, Aysel Tugluk, of their parliamentary seats and banned them both from politics for the next five years. The announcement that the remaining 19 elected lawmakers from their party would now resign in protest may exacerbate simmering tensions between the state and Turkey's minority of some 12 million ethnic Kurds.

"The decision of the constitutional court might deprive a significant segment of Turkish voters from political representation," said a spokesman for the European Commission, in a dispatch from the French news agency AFP.

Earlier Friday, Ahmet Turk denounced the court ban in a speech before a crowd of some 10,000 supporters in Diyarbakir, the unofficial political capital of Turkey's Kurds.

"I know the mentality of the state and the politicians of this country," he said. "We did not expect anything different because they cannot tolerate the existence of the Kurds. They cannot tolerate our identity. They cannot tolerate our language."

After the speech, several hundred Kurds took to the streets, throwing stones and clashing with Turkish riot police, who retaliated by firing tear gas and water cannons.

The banning of the DTP came after more then a week of riots and clashes between police and Kurdish protesters in cities and towns across Turkey.

Tensions have rapidly escalated, amid reports that the jailed leader of the Kurdish separatist movement -- the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the PKK -- was moved to a smaller prison cell, and after the PKK claimed responsibility for a deadly ambush last week that killed seven Turkish soldiers.

In Istanbul on Sunday, Kurdish protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails and clashed with police in a central commercial district. At one point, gun- and club-wielding Turkish ultranationalists joined the fray.

Explosions of ethnic anger were not limited to Turkey's largest city.

In the eastern Turkish town of Malatya, Turkish nationalists were filmed scuffling with Kurdish demonstrators Sunday. Police struggled to keep the two groups apart as they kicked and cursed at each other in the street.

Clashes also erupted on Monday in the coastal city of Adana and in the border town of Dogubayazit, Turkey's official Anatolian news agency reported. Anatolian reported that nine demonstrators were detained and that one demonstrator and five police officers were injured in the Dogubayazit clash.

Signs identifying the now-defunct DTP have been removed from the front of the 19th-century, four-story building where the party's Istanbul headquarters is located.

Two prior incarnations of the DTP have been shut down by the Turkish state within the last decade.

Mustafa Avci, the chairman of the party's Istanbul branch, said the Turkish state is forcing conflict on the country's Kurdish minority.

"They are forcing this on us," Avci said in an interview with CNN on Monday. "Therefore, they are the ones who practice terrorism, not us. ...Those who want war are terrorists."