The Turkish parliament dissolved into shoves, punches, and even a few wrestling-style dives during a debate over proposed changes to the national constitution.
This is hardly the first time punches have been thrown during a Turkish legislative committee, but this time the stakes were high, and the parliamentary pummeling mirrored the conflict playing out on the streets of Turkish cities. In fact, another fistfight over the same legislation erupted last week.
As CBS News explains, the bill that caused this fight to erupt would strip legislators of their traditional immunity to prosecution, “a move that could pave the way for the trial of pro-Kurdish legislators on terrorism-related charges.”
The bill was drafted by the ruling AKP party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and was viewed by the pro-Kurdish HDP Party as an attack on them, given that Erdogan has accused the HDP of being in league with the violent separatists of the outlawed PKK party.
Erdogan has called for the prosecution of some HDP leaders on those grounds. CBS notes the current co-leaders of the HDP, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, could both face prosecution for supporting Kurdish self-rule in Turkey, after their immunity is lifted.
For its part, the HDP denies it is working as the political arm of the PKK and has called upon Erdogan’s government to ease off anti-PKK operations in southeast Turkey to make room for renewed peace negotiations.
ABC News reports that one pro-Kurdish lawmaker stormed out of the room during the fight, after declaring that he and his colleagues “would not be part of this theater that is being staged.”
“They are attacking our legislators in order to prevent the process. They are trying to show parliament as a place for fighting, chaos and deadlock,” said Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, blaming pro-Kurdish deputies for starting the brawl.
HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas responded in kind, accusing the ruling part of “trying to shape Turkey through violence, arms, bullying.”
Demirtas also suggested that if HDP leaders are arrested, the party and its allies might quit to form their own parliament.
Reuters reports that the bill passed its committee, so the parliament’s general assembly will now debate the measure. AKP deputies want the debate to begin on May 16.
“The bill will need the support of at least 367 deputies in the 550-seat assembly to be passed directly. It would go to referendum if it wins 330 votes but falls short of the 367,” Reuters writes.
There would appear to be enough support for the bill to pass it directly, although Reuters speculates “many members of the main opposition could vote against it” during secret ballots.