Turkey's Kurdish rebels reconsider 'war' threats

AFP , Saturday 18 Jun 2011

Turkey's Kurdish forces step back from threats of "war" made before last Sunday's elections, seeking greater status in a constitutional settlement

A demonstrator holds a portrait of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan during a gathering to celebrate Newroz in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir in this March 21, 2009 file photo, (Reuters).

Separatist Kurdish rebels are reconsidering threats of a full-fledged "war" against Turkey following an appeal by their jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, according to an agency close to the militants.

"The leadership of our movement has decided to evaluate the leader's appeal ... and make its concrete position known next week," the rebels said in a statement posted Saturday on the Firat News Agency website.

Meeting with his lawyers in prison, Ocalan, leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), appealed to his militants "not to activate the revolutionary people's war" in light of the outcome of this month's elections, it said.

Ocalan, who retains his influence despite being behind bars, had warned earlier that "all hell will break loose" after the polls unless sporadic contacts he has had with officials in prison were upgraded to serious negotiations to resolve the 26-year Kurdish conflict.

But following last Sunday's elections, Ocalan "has envisaged that the process should continue ... on the basis of activating a democratic constitutional settlement," the statement said.

Ocalan appeared to refer to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's post-election pledge to seek a compromise with opposition forces to draft a new, more liberal constitution for Turkey.

Erdogan's Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party won a third straight term in power since 2002. However, the party fell just four seats short of the 330-seat majority in the 550-member parliament that would have enabled it to pass a constitutional overhaul and put it to a referendum without support from the opposition. Moreover, the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which is close to the PKK, emerged stronger from the polls.

Its candidates, running as independents to circumvent a 10 per cent threshold for parties restriction, clinched 36 seats, a record number for the Kurds, who number some 15 million in Turkey's population of 73 million.

The BDP says the new constitution should recognise the Kurds as a distinct element of the nation, grant them autonomy and Kurdish-language education in school — demands that Ankara has frowned upon.

In August last year, the PKK declared a unilateral ceasefire, which it later extended until the elections. The truce has been marred by several deadly PKK attacks and renewed military operations against the rebels.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community, took up arms in the Kurdish-majority southeast in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed around 45,000 lives.

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