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Turkish top court freezes pro-Kurdish party funds as elections loom

FILE PHOTO: Demonstration in solidarity with pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) in Istanbul

By Ece Toksabay

ANKARA (Reuters) -Turkey's top court narrowly ruled in favour of freezing pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) bank accounts holding Treasury aid on Thursday while it hears a case on shutting down the party over alleged ties to militants, state media said.

The move against the HDP, the third-biggest party in parliament, comes ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections that are set to be held by June and are expected to see a strong opposition challenge to President Tayyip Erdogan.

The Constitutional Court ruled eight members to seven in favour of blocking the party's accounts while the case continues, state-owned Anadolu news agency said.

A prosecutor filed the case against the HDP in March 2021, seeking the ban over alleged ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. The HDP denies such links.

Prosecutor Bekir Sahin last month requested the block on the HDP accounts, where it keeps funds from the Treasury, for the duration of the case hearing, saying the HDP has "organic ties" to the PKK and uses the funds in line with the militant group's aims.

HDP spokeswoman Ebru Gunay said the court decision would "go down as a black mark in the history of the country's democracy."

"This decision, taken in the middle of an ongoing case, shows the extent of political hatred and how much the court members are under pressure," she told reporters.

The Constitutional Court accepted the indictment against the HDP in June 2021 after a years-long crackdown under Erdogan's rule in which thousands of HDP members have been tried on mainly terrorism-related charges.

The prosecutor will set out his views on shutting down the party to the Constitutional Court verbally on Jan. 10. The court will then allow time for the HDP to prepare a verbal defence.

Aside from shutting the party down, the indictment also calls for 451 HDP members to be banned from politics for five years. It is unclear whether a final verdict could come before the elections.

Opinion polls have shown declining support for Erdogan and his ruling AK Party in recent years, after their two decades in power, giving the allied opposition parties their best shot yet at defeating him.

The HDP, which won 11.7% of the vote in 2018 parliamentary elections, is not part of the main opposition alliance but its supporters voted in line with the opposition to defeat AKP mayoral candidates in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities in 2019.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Birsen Altayli; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by William Maclean and Hugh Lawson)