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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's latest emergency decree risks inciting political violence by giving legal cover to pro-government vigilantes, opposition parties and legal authorities warned.

The order, passed Sunday, grants sweeping immunity for acting against terrorism or attempts to overthrow the government. Previously, immunity was only granted to officials and law enforcement. Civilians also won't face legal consequences for actions against last year's coup attempt -- or anything that could be considered its "continuation," the decree said.

Erdogan and his allies regularly accuse political opponents of furthering the agenda of coup plotters, raising concern -- and fear -- about how broadly the decree will be interpreted. Opposition parties led by the Republican People's Party said the measure provides immunity not just to those who fought back a failed coup attempt by a faction of the military on July 15, 2016, but to supporters of the government intent on stifling political dissent.

"They've paved the way for anyone who claims to be fighting against terrorism to slaughter everybody else," Ozgur Ozel, a Republican People's Party parliament whip, said in televised remarks in the western province of Manisa. "They will unleash vigilantes on us in a future democratic rally and will face no charges."

Ozel's comments were echoed across Turkey's normally fractured opposition spectrum. Meral Aksener, a former interior minister who leads the newly established Iyi Party, said in a Twitter post that the decree risks dragging Turkey into a civil war by allowing civilians to attack and kill opposition protesters, and link it to the failed coup. It also legitimizes use of paramilitary forces, according to Ziya Pir, a lawmaker with the People's Democratic Party, a pro-Kurdish party.

Even Abdullah Gul, a former president who co-founded the ruling Justice and Development Party with Erdogan and who is rarely critical of the government, warned of "events that could upset us all" and called for the law to be revised. Its wording is "inappropriate for legal language and is worrying from the perspective of rule of law," he said on Twitter, in an unusual criticism of his successor's policies.

About 250 people were killed and 2,193 injured resisting the attempted overthrow of the government. At least 34 alleged coup plotters also died. There have also been widespread accusations of violence against rank-and-file soldiers who were following their commanders' orders.

The decree was vaguely worded in terms of its timeframe and its targets. Justice and Development Party spokesman Mahir Unal said it only applied to events that took place on July 15-16, 2016, but that timeline isn't spelled out in the order.

Ayhan Bilgen, spokesman for the People's Democratic Party, questioned why the act was written to apply to terrorism if the intent, as Unal said, was only to grant immunity for acts in the two days around the attempted coup.

Metin Feyzioglu, head of the national bar association, said in a video posted on Facebook that he was "horrified" by the decree, which he said appears designed to exempt pro-government actors from the legal consequences of political violence. He called on Erdogan to immediately retract it.

"People on the streets are going to start shooting one another in the head," Feyzioglu said. "You just passed a law that allows citizens to kill one another, to lynch one another, without any punishment or compensation -- what have you done?"

Sunday's decrees add to a long list of government decisions issued under the state of emergency declared after last year's failed putsch. Emergency rule allows Erdogan to govern with decrees that carry the force of law, bypassing parliamentary and judicial oversight.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said after imposition of the state of emergency last year that it would never be used for decisions related to economic policies, but that also hasn't been the case. The latest batch of decrees included several economic measures, among them an executive order allowing the transfer of a majority stake in state-run lender Turkiye Vakiflar Bankasi from the state foundation that owned it to the Treasury.

Information for this article was contributed by Onur Ant of Bloomberg News; and by staff members of The Associated Press.

A Section on 12/26/2017

Print Headline: Turkey decree stokes fears of political violence

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