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Turkey's sectarian rift sparks brawl in parliament

Lawmakers ended up fighting as they debated contentious proposal to strip themselves of immunity from prosecution
Turkish parliament devolves into bare-knuckle brawl 00:47

ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkish lawmakers on Thursday fought and threw punches at each other as they debated a contentious ruling-party proposal to strip themselves of immunity from prosecution - a move that could pave the way for the trial of pro-Kurdish legislators on terrorism-related charges. Five people were hurt in the fighting, a news agency reported.

A parliamentary committee began initial discussions on the proposed constitutional amendment, which was drafted by the ruling party after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, HDP, of being an arm of the outlawed Kurdish rebels, and repeatedly called for the prosecution of some party leaders.

The move comes amid a surge of violence in Turkey's southeast after a fragile, more than 2-year-old peace process with the rebels collapsed. Hundreds of people, including close to 400 security force members, have died in the renewed fighting, which also displaced tens of thousands of people and left some towns and districts in ruins.

The HDP, which backs Kurdish and other minority rights, denies accusations that it is the political arm of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. It has called on the government to end security forces' operations in the southeast to resume peace efforts. The PKK is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

Although the measure would lift the legal immunities of all lawmakers who have legal cases pending against them, critics say the proposed amendment particularly aims to oust HDP lawmakers from parliament. The party's two co-leaders, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, face possible prosecution for making statements last year in support of calls for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey.

The committee meeting began with people arguing and pushing each other in a meeting room that turned out to be too small to hold scores of journalists, lawmakers and employees who wanted to observe the proceedings.

The meeting grew tenser in the afternoon, and Dogan news agency video showed lawmakers throwing punches at opponents and others trying to stop the brawl. The chaos forced committee leaders to postpone the discussions until Monday.

Dogan news agency said three ruling-party and two HDP lawmakers sought medical help after the brawl.

On Wednesday, a brawl also erupted on the assembly floor after an HDP lawmaker accused the security forces of "massacres" against Kurds in the southeast, sparking anger in the ruling party, where people were heard shouting "Terrorist, terrorist!"

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