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Trial begins of pro-Kurdish leader in Turkey on 'terror' links

© AFP/File | Selahettin Demirtas' supporters have held several protests in the past year demanding his release

ANKARA (AFP) - 

The co-leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party went on trial in Ankara Thursday on charges of links to outlawed Kurdish militants, after over a year behind bars in a case supporters say is politically motivated, his party said.

Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the second largest opposition bloc the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), was detained in November 2016 and is charged with "managing a terror organisation" and "making propaganda for a terror group".

He faces up to 142 years in prison if convicted of links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an organisation outlawed by Turkey and its Western allies. The party says the accusations are politically motivated.

His trial got under way at Sincan prison complex in Ankara province, an HDP official told AFP, adding Demirtas was not present for the hearing.

The MP is being held in prison in the northwestern region of Edirne. The party has previously accused the justice ministry of preventing any court appearances by Demirtas.

Prior to his arrest, Demirtas was considered one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's major rivals, with oratory skills matching the firebrand Turkish head of state.

He led his party to success in June 2015 polls and surpassed the 10 percent threshold needed to enter parliament through winning not just support from Kurds but also liberals and the Turkish left. He repeated the success in snap polls of November of that year but with fewer MPs.

A dozen HDP MPs were detained at the same time as him but now nine remain in prison including Demirtas and former co-chair Figen Yuksekdag.

© 2017 AFP