German Chancellor Merkel meets Kurdish lawmakers in Ankara

Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) meets for dinner with HDP (Democratic Party of the Peoples) parliamentary faction leader Idris Baluken (C) and HDP member of Turkey's parliament Mithat Sancar (L) and Hisyar Ozsoy in Ankara, Turkey February 2, 2017. Guido Bergmann/Bundesregierung/Handout via Reuters.

ANKARA (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel met members of Turkey’s opposition parties on Thursday (February 2) during her visit to capital Ankara.

Merkel held talks with Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmakers Idris Baluken and Mithat Sancar.

Turkish authorities say the HDP, parliament’s third-largest party with 59 seats, is an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The HDP denies direct links to the group and says it wants to see a return to peace talks between the government and the PKK, which has carried out a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast.

In recent months, thousands of Kurdish politicians have been detained, including Idris Baluken who has been recently released after spending three months in prison.

The two leaders of HDP Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, have been under arrest since November. Their arrest drew strong international condemnation over what rights groups say is a widening crackdown on dissent under President Tayyip Erdogan.

Merkel also met main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu before winding up her visit to Turkey.

In her first trip to Ankara since Turkey’s failed coup last July, Merkel said that the attempted coup proved the Turkish people were determined to stand up for democracy.

“That is exactly why, in this decisive phase, it is important that freedom of opinion is upheld and in connection with this, we talked about press freedom,” she said.