Fireworks, gunfire as Kurds fete Turkey poll breakthrough

Diyarbakir (Turkey) (AFP) - With fireworks and gunshots, Turkey's Kurds celebrated their biggest-ever breakthrough in Turkish politics on Sunday, revelling in the blow dealt to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Cars cruised through the streets of the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey, with drivers honking and people hanging out from windows making 'V' signs as occasional gunshots were fired into the air.

Results showed the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) and its charismatic leader Selahattin Demirtas easily passed the 10 percent barrier needed to win seats in parliament, with the HDP's 13 percent vote share guaranteeing them 79 MPs.

The results will give the Kurds -- who, with 20 percent of Turkey's population, are the country's biggest minority -- true representation in parliament.

In Diyarbakir, supporters were ululating, dancing and shouting the party's election slogan: "We are the HDP, we are going to the parliament."

"It is a carnival night," said 47-year-old Huseyin Durmaz, a Kurd.

"We no longer trust the AKP," he said, referring to Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, which lost its majority in the 550-seat parliament.

According to 34-year-old Aytac Bayram, meanwhile, Diyarbakir had last "seen such a night of celebration during the liberation of Kobane".

Kurdish fighters, backed by US-led air strikes, drove Islamic State jihadists from the key Syrian town of Kobane in January -- a key symbolic and strategic blow against the militant group which has emboldened the Kurdish movement in Turkey.

The HDP's move to parliament for the first time as a party -- its MPs had sat in the previous parliament, but they were elected as independents -- comes against the backdrop of a bomb attack that killed two people at the Diyarbakir rally just ahead of the elections.

- 'A warning' -

"The HDP's rise symbolises the unity of the Kurds and is one step closer to democracy," said HDP supporter Yalman.

"It is a warning against (the) AKP and dictatorship," he said.

Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics after over a decade as prime minister, but he and the AKP suffered in the national polls from a dip in economic growth and controversy over Erdogan's perceived authoritarian tendencies

His active involvement in the election campaign was also controversial, with Erdogan delivering daily speeches at rallies -- a move condemned by opponents as violating the constitution, given that as head of state he is required to keep an equal distance from all parties.

And while Erdogan had in recent years worked to give Kurds greater rights, particularly regarding language and education, he recently shifted his rhetoric to adopt a more nationalist stance, saying Turkey no longer had a "Kurdish problem".

"You are head of state. Is it your job to run from one rally to another?" asked Orhan Akgun, a Kurd from Diyarbakir who said he voted for the AKP in the past.

"The AKP shot itself in the foot. It lost (the) trust of the people," he added, blaming the ruling party's results on a "cynical approach making fun of people in this region".

The HDP plays a critical role in the regional peace process, started by the AKP with the ultimate goal of disarming the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a separatist group that is regarded as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.

But the government has been criticised for not making the process sufficiently transparent or inclusive.

"Our representatives will be in the parliament. They will advocate Kurdish rights," said 41-year-old Selcuk Atasever.

"From now we will have a stronger voice in the peace process."