Turkey Probes Lawmaker After Mass Brawl Exposes Rift Over Syria

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An exchange of barbs over the war in Syria touched off a brawl in Turkey’s parliament and prompted prosecutors to start preparing an indictment against an opposition lawmaker for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Fistfights broke out late Wednesday when Engin Ozkoc, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, called Erdogan “dishonest.” Insulting the president or other public officials is a crime in Turkey.

The latest round of recriminations began in retaliation for similar accusations made by Erdogan against CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu over the killing of Turkish soldiers in neighboring Syria. The president has accused Kilicdaroglu of siding with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after the CHP leader urged a political solution to avoid casualties.

Dozens of Turkish soldiers have died in Syria in recent days, including in an air strike last month that inflicted the biggest single-day loss of Turkish troops for decades.

Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said on Twitter that “we will immediately send the indictment prepared by the prosecutor’s office in Ankara to parliament,” a step needed to lift the lawmaker’s immunity and pave the way for his prosecution. Erdogan also filed a slander case against Ozkoc, demanding 1 million liras ($165,000) in compensation, state-run TRT television reported Thursday.

“Engin Ozkoc will see that there is an answer in the law for what he has done,” Gul said.

Putin, Erdogan Seek to Mend Ties at High-Stakes Syria Summit

Turkey is locked in a fierce battle to halt a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive in Idlib province, the country’s last opposition stronghold, to counter what it fears could trigger another exodus of refugees.

Turkey has refused a Russian proposal to move its military outposts to the north of Idlib and massed more troops in the province. Erdogan was scheduled to travel to Moscow on Thursday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin to try to patch up their fraying partnership over the Syrian war.

Public support for the army is running high in Turkey, emboldening authorities to tolerate little dissent over the operations in Syria. Erdogan has said the soldiers will take their place at “the hill of martyrs.”

Kilicdaroglu accused Erdogan of putting the army in harm’s way to pursue his own policies in Syria, where Turkey has been backing rebels against Assad since the beginning of the civil war.

Kilicdaroglu said when his party comes to power, “the hill of martyrs will be empty.”

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