Erdogan says ECHR ruling on Demirtas supports terrorism

Turkish president also lashes out at American billionaire George Soros, accusing him of using his wealth to 'divide and tear up nations'.

ANKARA - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that the European Court of Human Rights' (ECHR) ruling on the jailed former leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition, Selahattin Demirtas, amounted to support of terrorism.

On Tuesday, the ECHR urged Turkey to swiftly process Demirtas's legal case, saying his pre-trial detention had gone on longer than could be justified.

Demirtas, former co-chairman of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and one of Turkey's best known politicians, was arrested in November 2016 on terrorism-related charges.

He was sentenced in September to more than four years in jail in relation to a speech he gave in 2013, but faces several more charges. Having spent nearly two years in prison awaiting trial for those charges, he has effectively already served out the prison term handed down by the Turkish court.

Speaking to local administrators in Ankara, Erdogan said Demirtas had the blood of 50 people on his hands and accused the ECHR of not being objective in its rulings against Turkey.

"No matter where you go in Europe today, while supporters of terrorist organisations roam free, the citizens who love our country are being suffocated," Erdogan said.

"Are you following this ECHR? Do you have a ruling on these? No country or institution that praises Gulenists has the right to speak of democracy. This isn't seeking justice, it's simply terror-loving," he said, referring to Fethullah Gulen, a US-based cleric Ankara blames for a 2016 failed coup attempt.

Erdogan and his government accuse the HDP of ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state and is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and European Union. The HDP denies direct links.

While Demirtas has been convicted in one of his cases, he remains in prison facing several more terrorism-related charges, mostly for other speeches he gave, that could see him sentenced to up to 142 years in jail if found guilty.

Demirtas' lawyer said on Tuesday that he had applied for the politician's immediate release, saying "every second Mr Demirtas remains jailed is a restriction on freedom."

Hours after the ECHR's ruling, Erdogan dismissed the ruling as not binding and, without elaborating, said Turkey would take steps against the decision.

ECHR rulings are legally binding, but there have been many instances in which Turkey has not implemented them.

'Famous Hungarian Jew'

Erdogan on Wednesday also lashed out at the Hungary-born American billionaire George Soros, accusing him of aiding a jailed Turkish philanthropist facing hugely controversial charges of seeking to overthrow the government.

Erdogan suggested Soros had backed the Turkish financier and philanthropist Osman Kavala who organised civil society events and has been in prison for the last year awaiting trial.

Erdogan accused Kavala of financing the 2013 protests over the redevelopment of Gezi Park in Istanbul which at the time marked one of the biggest challenges to his rule.

"There is a person who financed the terrorists in the Gezi events. Now he is behind bars," said Erdogan, referring to Kavala without naming him.

"And who is behind him? The famous Hungarian Jew Soros. This person sends people across the world to divide and tear up nations and uses the large amount of money he possesses to this effect."

He described Kavala as the "representative in Turkey" of Soros and accused Kavala of "using his means to support those trying to tear up this country"

Erdogan's verbal assault against Soros echoed the language of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose government has implemented a "Stop Soros" package targeting the 88-year-old's work in his country of birth using imagery that Jewish groups have said could stoke anti-Semitism.

Soros, who funds philanthropic projects across the world, has become a favorite target of far-right extremists in several countries.

Controversy over the Kavala case has intensified in the last week after 14 Turkish academics and activists were detained on Friday over links to the imprisoned philanthropist.

Those arrests were greeted with strong protests by the United States, European Union and the Turkish opposition. All the suspects were released bar Yigit Aksakoglu, a staff member of Istanbul's private Bilgi University who was remanded in custody.

Kavala's supporters say his charges of seeking to overthrow the government are absurd and that he had worked tirelessly to build bridges in society, in particular with Armenians.

They also say it is a disgrace he has yet to receive an indictment over a year after his arrest on October 18, 2017.