Turkey's HDP to boycott constitutional reform vote

ANKARA - Turkey's pro-Kurdish party is to boycott a parliamentary vote on a controversial new draft constitution aimed at giving President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greater powers, in protest over the arrest of its MPs.
"We will not use our vote for this illegitimate reform while our deputies are unjustly under arrest and prevented from carrying out their duties," Ayhan Bilgen, MP and spokesman for the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), said on Twitter late Monday.
Eleven HDP members of parliament are currently in jail for alleged links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is listed as a "terrorist" organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU.
Turkey's parliament on Monday began debating the new constitution, and is expected to vote on the issue in two weeks.
If the measure is approved by parliament, a referendum is expected to take place within 60 days, indicating a date in late March or early April.
It seeks to establish for the first time a presidential system for ruling the modern republic created from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.
Selahattin Demirtas, one of the HDP's co-leaders, on Monday slammed the debates from behind bars, the private Dogan news agency reported.
He said the arrest of 11 members of the party had stripped them of their chance to challenge the draft constitution and "makes the debate and the vote controversial from the very start".
Critics have claimed the move is part of a power grab by Erdogan -- Turkey's premier from 2003-2014 and then president -- for one-man rule following a failed coup on July 15.
But supporters say the presidential system would bring Turkey into line with countries such as France and the United States and is needed for efficient government.
Erdogan's AK Party needs more than 330 votes -- a three fifths majority -- for the bill to be submitted to a referendum for voters' approval.