Turkish PM Promises Kurds More Democracy

Stops Short of Halting Military Ops

DIYARBAKIR (AFX)–Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged that the Kurdish conflict in Turkey would be resolved with "more democracy," despite a marked increase in violence by armed Kurdish rebels whom Ankara considers "terrorists."

"I want you to know that there will be no going back from the point Turkey has come to… We will not allow any regression in the democracy process," Erdogan said in an emotional speech in Diyarbakir–Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.

"We will resolve all problems with more democracy–more civil rights and more prosperity," he said–frequently interrupted by applause from a crowd of some 1,000 people.

In Arbil–northern Iraq–a senior Turkish Kurd rebel leader welcomed Erdogan’s statement–but said he wanted to see how this translates into action.

"We believe Erdogan’s statemen’s are significant–but what matters is what concrete actions will be taken on the ground," said Zubeyir Aydar–head of KONGRA-GEL–a sub-group of the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Erdogan was seeking to allay concerns that a recent increase in attacks on military and civilian targets blamed on the PKK might prompt Ankara to introduce measures that would diminish the fragile freedoms the sizeable Kurdish minority has only recently gained.

Keen to boost its bid to join the European Union–Ankara has ended 15 years of emergency rule in the southeast and allowed the Kurdish language to be taught at private courses and used in public television and radio broadcasts.

However–Erdogan signaled that Ankara would not back down from military measures in the struggle against the PKK.

"Terrorism and violence are the worst enemy of this country and they will never be tolerated," he said–vowing an "all-out unshakeable determination" to counter violence.

Many Kurds complain that the government has not done enough to relieve their chronic poverty–but Erdogan made it clear that Ankara planned no industrial investmen’s in the region–calling on local businessmen to take the initiative under a recently introduced scheme of incentives.

Diyarbakir Mayor Osman Baydemir–a leading Kurdish politician–welcomed Erdogan’s promise for a democratic settlement of the Kurdish question.

"I hope his pledges will lead to the opening of a new page in Ankara’s ties with the Kurds," Baydemir told NTV television.

"A new ground is required to ensure that the arms are silenced. My hopes in this direction were boosted today," he said.

In his statement–Aydar said–"We also believe that a new page should be opened," but he noted that Erdogan failed to say whether the government was considering an end to military operations against the PKK.

"He said nothing on issues that are important to us," Aydar said–alluding also to the solitary confinement of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan on a prison island in northwestern Turkey.

The PKK–as well as many mainstream Kurdish politicians–have called for a general amnesty for PKK rebels that will ensure their participation in political life.

They also demand that the Kurdish language be taught in public schools–that laws restricting Kurdish representation in parliament be repealed and that Kurdish localities given Turkish names revert to their former Kurdish names.

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