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Erdogan calls for speedy trial of jailed 'Kurdish Obama'

Demirtas was arrested in 2016 as part of Erdogan's sweeping crackdown on Kurdish figures [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 June, 2018

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Erdogan has stepped up his attacks against Selahattin Demirtas, the former co-leader of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), as the country gears up to vote on June 24.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for the courts to "quickly" try his jailed Kurdish rival on Sunday, who has been campaigning for this month's presidential elections from his cell.

Erdogan has stepped up his attacks against Selahattin Demirtas, the former co-leader of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and still by far its most prominent figure, as the country gears up to vote on June 24.

"This man is currently in preventive detention, right? Yes, he's locked up. Frankly, it's necessary for justice to render its decision quickly," Erdogan said at a meeting in the northwest province of Kocaeli.

Demirtas, 45, has been incarcerated since November 2016 accused of "terrorist" activities - which he denies - for his alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Other opponents of Erdogan have called for Demirtas to be released so he can campaign for the elections.

"His party campaigns for him. It's more than he deserves," said Erdogan, who is seeking re-election as Turkey's president.

A former human rights lawyer Demirtas won almost 10 percent of the vote in the presidential elections of 2014, establishing himself as a serious rival to Erdogan.

From his cell on Sunday, Demirtas reacted on Twitter denouncing Erdogan's attacks as "despicable slander".

"In the face of your baseness, the people will give in my name the most brilliant response at the ballot box on June 24," he tweeted. 

Dubbed the "Kurdish Obama" by admirers after the rhetorically-gifted former US president, Demirtas stood out in Turkish politics with impassioned speeches and a radiant charisma. 

But he was arrested in November 2016 in a crackdown that followed the failed coup last July and put on trial in several cases, notably on charges of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

If convicted, he faces up to 142 years in prison.

The left-wing HDP replaced Demirtas as its co-leader in February this year after he indicated his political career was over while in prison. 

It was not immediately clear what had prompted the change of heart and how he can register as a candidate, let alone campaign, while in jail.

The new co-leaders of the HDP, Pervin Buldan and Sezai Temelli, urged supporters to come out and celebrate the campaign launch in early May.

"We are coming together to share our joy in Selahattin Demirtas' candidacy for president," they said in a statement. "We can already see a bright future."

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