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 Clashes in Turkey's Kurdish region, threatening peace moves

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Clashes in Turkey's Kurdish region, threatening peace moves  19.6.2012  

Turkey's prominent outspoken Kurdish rights advocate Leyla Zana, former Kurdish MP in Turkey Zana spent a decade behind bars (between 1994 and 2004) in Turkey for speaking Kurdish in the Turkish Parliament after taking her parliamentary oath. She was the first Kurdish woman to be elected to Turkey's parliament. Photo: AP
June 19, 2012

ANKARA, — Fighting between soldiers and Kurdish rebels in the Kurdish region southeast Turkey claimed 18 lives Tuesday, threatening to torpedo a rare opening for negotiations to resolve a decades-old separatist conflict.

Eight Turkish soldiers were killed and 16 wounded when the rebels attacked an army post near the border with Iraq's Kurdistan region, local officials said in a statement, adding that 10 rebels were killed and operations were continuing.

The bloodshed comes amid signs of a softening of the government’s hard line against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) after a prominent Kurdish lawmaker extended an olive branch to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Leyla Zana, in an interview with the prominent daily Hurriyet, praised Erdogan as the head of the strongest government in Turkey’s history, saying that with the political will, he had the power to solve the Kurdish problem.

“The strongest one can halt all this if he wants. Who’s that strongest one? It’s the current government and its head Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” she told Hurriyet.

Zana, among the most outspoken advocates of Kurdish rights who won the European Parliament’s Sakharov human rights award in 1995, was imprisoned from 1994 to 2004 for alleged links with the separatist PKK, which took up arms in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.

But her latest comments won plaudits from government officials and Erdogan said he was ready to meet her.

The headline-grabbing interview however drew a harsh response from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which secured 29 seats in the 550-member Turkish parliament in the 2011 elections last year.

The party’s co-chairman Selahattin Demirtas accused Zana of being “naive” to pin her hopes on Erdogan.

Meanwhile the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) drew up a blueprint that would see a parliamentary commission work together with an outside panel of “wise men” to resolve the Kurdish problem.

The plan has won backing from both the Erdogan government and Kurdish MPs, seen by political analysts as a “watershed” in Turkish politics.

In another sign of softening, Erdogan told parliament last week that the Kurdish language would be taught as an elective course in public schools for the first time ever.

Since coming to power in 2002, Erdogan’s government has carried out a number of reforms under pressure from the European Union, easing restrictions on the use of Kurdish, including in broadcasts.

Political commentators however warn that a spike in violence in the southeast, home to most of Turkey’s large Kurdish minority, may force the government to keep military option on the table.

The fresh violence prompted Turkey’s top commander General Necdet Ozer and cabinet ministers to travel to the region, while President Abdullah Gul said Turkey must “solve the terrorism problem without making any concessions on its state authority and rule of law.”

The PKK has several times proposed peaceful solutions regarding Kurdish problem, Turkey has always refused saying that it will not negotiate with “terrorists”.

Since it was established in 1984, the PKK has been fighting the Turkish state, which still denies the constitutional existence of Kurds, to establish a Kurdish state in the south east of the country, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.

But now its aim is the creation an autonomous Kurdish region and more cultural rights for ethnic Kurds who constitute the greatest minority in Turkey, numbering more than 20 million. A large Turkey's Kurdish community openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK rebels.

PKK's demands included releasing PKK detainees, lifting the ban on education in Kurdish, paving the way for an autonomous democrat Kurdish system within Turkey, reducing pressure on the detained PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, stopping military action against the Kurdish party and recomposing the Turkish constitution.

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish politicians say the measures fall short of their expectations.

The PKK is considered as 'terrorist' organization by Ankara and U.S. The PKK continues to be on the blacklist list in EU despite court ruling which overturned a decision to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its political wing on the European Union's terror list. 

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