Turkey probes Kurdish leader, ramps up air strikes against PKK

Istanbul: Turkish prosecutors today opened a criminal probe against the leader of the main pro-Kurdish party, as Ankara stepped up its controversial air campaign against separatist Kurdish rebels.

Turkish war planes launching a wave of new assaults on PKK targets after five more people were killed in attacks blamed on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants.

Ankara says it is fighting a two-pronged “war on terror” against Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Syria and the PKK in northern Iraq, after a spate of attacks in the country.

But after initially targeting the IS group, the campaign has become increasingly focused on the PKK, with the Turkish air force bombing dozens of targets in an almost week-long campaign.

During the afternoon, 30 Turkish F-16 launched one of the heaviest raids yet in northern Iraq, hitting positions of the PKK in five locations, Turkish television reported.

The Hurriyet daily said Turkish intelligence sources believed as many as 190 PKK fighters had been killed in the air operations so far and 300 wounded.

But the government declined to give any toll. “This is not a football game but a fight against terrorism,” a Turkish official told AFP.

The strikes have targeted camps and weapons stores used by the military wing of the PKK in the remote mountains of northern Iraq, including its headquarters on Kandil mountain. PKK targets inside Turkey’s borders have also been hit.

The crisis erupted on July 20 when 32 people were killed in a suicide bombing blamed on IS jihadists in a town close to the Syrian border.

The PKK, who accuse Ankara of collaborating with IS, responded by murdering two Turkish police in their sleep and saying they no longer considered a ceasefire that had largely been observed since 2013 to be valid.

A peace process for a final settlement aiming to end the PKK’s 30-year-plus armed uprising for more rights and powers for Turkish Kurds is now under severe strain.

The first shot was also fired in what may prove a long-running legal process against pro-Kurdish political forces, with prosecutors announcing a probe against against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) leader Selahattin Demirtas.

Demirtas is accused of inciting people to take up arms during October 2014 protests that left dozens dead, the official Anatolia news agency said.

If the case comes to court, he could face up to 24 years in jail, it added.

Demirtas had accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of orchestrating the crisis in the hope of calling early elections to make up for the ruling party’s lacklustre performance in June 7 polls.