ANKARA, Turkey — More than 150 Kurds, including a dozen elected mayors, went on trial Monday for alleged links with Kurdish guerrilla group the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) at a time when the Turkish government is engaged in efforts to reconcile with the members of this ethnic minority.
Kurdish politicians demand the acquittal of all suspects who face between five years to life in prison for alleged membership in a "terrorist organization" and attempts to divide the state. The trial will run through Nov. 12 in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the Kurdish-dominated southeast.
It comes at a time when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government is trying to win the hearts of Turkey's Kurdish population — who make up 20 percent of Turkey's population — by granting them more cultural rights, and after Turkish officials have reportedly held secret talks with an imprisoned Kurdish rebel chief to try and end the bitter fighting with his autonomy-seeking rebels.
The fighting has killed tens of thousands of people since the rebels took up arms for autonomy in Turkey's southeast in 1984.
The PKK recently declared a unilateral cease-fire in hopes of opening a dialogue but Turkey has ignored all such declarations.
"We want the acquittal of all our friends without any exemption," said Selahattin Demirtas, the head of the country's pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party. Hundreds of the group's supporters gathered Monday outside the court in support of the suspects, as European human rights activists and lawyers arrived in Diyarbakir to monitor the case.
Snipers took up positions on roof tops as police escorted about 100 of the suspects into the court under tight security. The suspects include the popular mayor of Diyarbakir, Osman Baydemir, who had publicly called for Kurdish autonomy. About 20 of the suspects are at large but are being tried in absentia.