Erdogan rejects ally's call for release of philanthropist and Kurdish leader

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds pictures of jailed former leader of Turkey's main pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party Selahattin Demirtas as people gather to celebrate Newroz, which marks the arrival of spring and the new year, in Istanbul, Turkey March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan/File Photo

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday dismissed calls from a close ally for the release of a leading Kurdish opposition politician and a philanthropist from jail.

Rights activists, Western powers and some opposition parties have all urged the release of Selahattin Demirtas and Osman Kavala, both arrested in the wake of an attempted coup in 2016. They were joined on Thursday by former deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc, now on the presidency's High Advisory Board.

"Even though we have worked together in the past, no one's personal comments can be linked to the president, our government or the party," Erdogan said in a speech to party members.

Demirtas, former head of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and one of Turkey's best known politicians, faces several charges, including one of terrorism relating to violent protests against the Turkish army's inaction during a siege by Islamic State militants of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani in 2014/15. He denies all the charges.

Kavala was acquitted in February of charges related to street protests in 2013 that threatened then-premier Erdogan's grip on power, but was re-arrested the same day on charges related to a failed coup in 2016, in which he denies any role.

In his remarks, Erdogan said that "the people who are currently at the disposal of the judiciary, who caused the deaths of thousands of our people, the people who are responsible for Kobani, cannot be defended by Tayyip Erdogan or his allies".

He also said he would never defend Kavala, whom he called the sponsor of the 2013 protests.

Erdogan promised this month that parliament would prioritise judicial reform next year.

(Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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