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Feb 21, 10:36 AM EST

Kurdish party co-chair loses her seat in Turkish parliament


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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- The co-chair of Turkey's opposition pro-Kurdish party lost her seat in parliament on Tuesday after an appeals court confirmed her conviction on terrorism-related charges.

The decision revoking Figen Yuksekdag's parliamentary seat over a 2013 conviction for engaging in terrorist propaganda, was read out in parliament, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. It sparked protests from lawmakers of her People's Democracy Party, or HDP, forcing the parliament speaker to call a recess.

The decision comes amid what critics say is the government's widening crackdown on opposition and dissenting voices and as Turkey is heading toward a referendum on April 16 on expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers.

Yuksekdag was arrested in November along with HDP's co-leader, Selahattin Demirtas, and a dozen other party legislators, after parliament voted to lift their parliamentary immunities that shielded them from prosecution. Prosecutors are seeking up to 142 years in prison for Demirtas and maximum 83 years for Yuksekdag, accusing them of leadership of a terror organization and holding them responsible for violent street protests that broke out in 2014 and led to more than 30 deaths.

The party has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights seeking the lawmakers' release, so that they may be allowed to campaign ahead of the referendum.

The government accuses the party - which is Turkey's third largest - of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. The HDP denies the accusation.

The PKK is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

In a related development, a court in the eastern town of Dogubeyazit convicted Demirtas of insulting the Turkish people and state institutions during a speech he delivered last year and sentenced him to five months in prison, Anadolu said. Demirtas is expected to appeal the verdict.

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