updated 11/16/2007 1:36:03 PM ET 2007-11-16T18:36:03

Turkish authorities on Friday took steps to ban the country's leading pro-Kurdish political party and expel several of its lawmakers from parliament on charges of separatism.

The Democratic Society Party, which won 20 seats in parliament in July, last week called for autonomy for Kurds living in the country's southeast. The call came amid tension over how to deal with separatist Kurdish rebels, with the military preparing for a possible cross-border offensive against their bases in northern Iraq.

Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya said in an indictment "that speeches and actions by party leaders have proved that the party has become a focal point of activities against the sovereignty of the state and indivisible unity of the country and the nation."

He said prosecutors hoped the legal case would shut down the party, which he described as "based on blood and orders from the terrorist organization of the PKK," the acronym for the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party.

The prosecutor's office on Friday sent the 120-page indictment to the country's Constitutional Court. Several predecessors of the pro-Kurdish party were banned by Turkey's Constitutional Court on similar grounds and for alleged ties to rebels.

"We believe that the policy of lynching a political party should be abandoned," Ahmet Turk, a lawmaker with the party, told Dogan news aqency.

Nurettin Demirtas, the party's chairman, said the indictment would harm Turkey's efforts to join the European union, which has pressured the country to grant more rights to its Kurdish minority.

Several party officials helped facilitate the Nov. 4 release of eight soldiers who had been abducted by Kurdish fighters, traveling to the rebel base in northern Iraq where they were held. The party demanded more rights for the Kurdish minority and autonomy for Kurds living in the southeast during a party congress last week.

Turkish leaders have accused the pro-Kurdish party of having ties to the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Turkish leaders insist the party should declare the PKK a terrorist organization to prove its allegiance to Turkey. Both the U.S. and the European Union have labeled the PKK a terrorist organization.

DEHAP, the predecessor of the present party, dissolved itself in 2005 as prosecutors tried to close it. Yalcinkaya accused leaders of the current party of establishing the new party under orders from Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned Kurdish rebel chief who is serving a life term on a prison island near Istanbul.

"By implementing orders they received from the leader of a terrorist organization in prison, (they) have openly shown their allegiance to the terrorist organization and its leader," Yalcinkaya said.

Yalcinkaya said the party should be prevented from participating in elections during the expected trial period. Local elections are scheduled for March 2008.

The chief prosecutor asked the Constitutional Court to ban 221 members of the party, including eight lawmakers, from taking part in politics for five years after the closure of the party.

If the party is disbanded by the Constitutional Court, those eight legislators will be kicked out of the Parliament — despite a warning by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday that excluding Kurdish lawmakers could "push them toward the mountains" and bring them closer to the rebel organization, the daily Sabah reported Friday.

"We should especially encourage them to make politics," Sabah quoted Erdogan as saying. "Let them make politics within limits of the constitution."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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