Kurdish MP's speech cut off by state TV

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Turkish state television cut off live broadcasting when the head of the largest pro-Kurdish political party began addressing his parliamentary deputies in the Kurdish language.

The incident highlighted tensions in the European Union candidate country over the issue of using the once-banned language in public, despite government moves to ease restrictions, including launching a Kurdish channel. It also took place before municipal elections, to be held on 29 March, in which the ruling AK Party is locked in a close battle with the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the Kurdish south-east region.

"In order to show that there is nothing to fear in using other languages and to emphasise brotherhood of languages during the International Day of Mother Tongues, let me continue my speech in Kurdish," Ahmet Turk, the DTP's leader, told its 21 MPs before he went off the air. Under Turkish law, it is illegal for Turkish politicians to make political speeches in a language other than Turkish. The channel TRT said: "The constitution and the law on political parties bans the use of any language other than Turkish in parliament and in group meetings. Therefore we had to cut the live broadcast."

Nihat Ergun, the deputy chairman of the AKP's parliament group, called Mr Turk's speech a "provocation".

Kurdish was banned from 1980 to 1999 after a military coup, and in response to guerrilla activity by the the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The DTP, which has 21 MPs, faces closure by the Constitutional Court on charges it has links to the PKK.