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 Turkey PM Erdogan meets prominent Kurdish lawmaker Leyla Zana

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Turkey PM Erdogan meets prominent Kurdish lawmaker Leyla Zana  1.7.2012  
By Ekurd staff writers

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, his deputy Besir Atalay, right, meet with Leyla Zana, an independent Kurdish lawmaker from southeastern Kurdish city of Diyarbakir (Northern Kurdistan), in Ankara, Turkey, Saturday, June 30, 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:
July 1, 2012

ANKARA, — Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held talks with a prominent Kurdish lawmaker and rights advocate in a rare meeting Saturday to try and resolve a decades-old separatist conflict.

No statement was issued to the press after the one-and-a-half hour meeting which followed Leyla Zana's comments in a recent newspaper interview praising Erdogan as the head of the strongest government in Turkey's history.

Zana told daily Hurriyet early this month that with the political will, Erdogan 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 said.

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.

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

Zana, who in 1995 won the European Parliament's Sakharov human rights award, and several other Kurds were elected to parliament in 1991, but lost their seats in 1994 after their party was outlawed for links with the PKK. Zana and three colleagues spent 10 years behind bars for collaborating with the rebels. They were released in June 2004.

Zana and her colleagues were first sentenced to 15 years in jail in 1994 for membership of the Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has been fighting a 26-year bloody campaign for Kurdish self-rule in the country's southeast. In March 2003, Zana and her co-defendants were allowed a retrial after their original conviction was condemned as unfair by the European Court of Human Rights in 2001. She was released in 2004 after Turkey's appeals court overturned her conviction.

Leyla Zana, the symbol of peaceful strife of the Kurdish people, was granted the Italian honorary nationality in Rome on October 23, 2008.

Zana received a two-year prison sentence from the Diyarbakir 6th High Criminal Court on the grounds of a speech made at the Newroz celebrations in 2007 (traditional Kurdish festival to mark the beginning of the Iranian New Year and the arrival of spring). She was sentenced for saying "The three leaders of the Kurds Jalal Talabani, Massoud Barzani and Abdullah Öcalan".

Zana stood trial once more under charges of "praising crime and criminals" based on her defence in the case mentioned above. The Diyarbakir 6th High Criminal Court acquitted the politician.

Former DEP MP Zana received a prison sentence of one year and three months based on a speech she had given at a seminar held by the School of Oriental and African Studies in London on 24 May 2008. Zana was convicted of "propaganda for an illegal organization". In her speech, she had likened the PKK and its imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan's importance to the Kurdish people to the importance the brain and heart have to humans. "They have created a new life for the Kurdish people, so that a people that used to be ashamed of its existence gained a spirit of freedom and resistance."

On 4 December 2008, Zana was sentenced to imprisonment of ten years by the Diyarbakir 5th High Criminal Court under allegations of "spreading propaganda for the PKK" in nine different speeches. The court voiced the opinion that "the defendant's activities over all reached the dimension of membership of the PKK/Kongra-Gel terror organization". The decision included Zana's deprivation of the right to vote and to be elected and several other political rights.

On July 28, 2009 Zana was sentenced to 15 months in prison for remarks upholding Kurdish PKK rebels fighting the Turkish government. On December 4, 2008 sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for praising PKK

On May 24, 2012, a Turkish court sentenced Leyla Zana to 10 years in prison in absentia for membership of an outlawed separatist group and spreading its propaganda. Leyla Zana was convicted by a judge in southeastern Diyarbakir of having violated the penal code and the anti-terror law in nine different speeches.

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. 

Sources: AFP | Reuters | ANF | | Agencies

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