Turkey's Kurdish legislators push for autonomy

AP , Sunday 4 Sep 2011

Kurdish legislators vow to press on with a boycott of Turkey's parliament and back a recent declaration of autonomy in the country's Kurd-dominated southeast

Kurdish legislators vowed Sunday to press on with a boycott of Turkey's parliament and backed a recent declaration of autonomy in the country's Kurd-dominated southeast. The defiant stances came as Kurdish rebels killed four people while military airstrikes targeted their hideouts.

The developments underscored the challenge facing the Islamist-oriented government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in dealing with the Kurds, even as it has taken some steps to improve relations with the long-marginalized ethnic group that makes up some 20 percent of Turkey's 74 million people.

The European Union, which Turkey is striving to join, has pushed Erdogan's government to grant more rights to the Kurds. But EU countries also urge Kurdish lawmakers to distance themselves from the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by the U.S. and the E.U.

The PKK has been fighting for autonomy in the southeast since 1984, and keeps bases in northern Iraq. In July, Kurdish lawmakers and leading activists declared autonomy for that region.

During a convention Sunday for the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party in the capital Ankara, Kurdish legislators complained that the government had made little headway toward resolving the conflict, which has killed tens of thousands of people, and granting Kurds more political and cultural rights.

The Kurdish legislators were elected in June, but have pledged not take an oath of office until five pro-Kurdish legislators held on charges of rebel ties are freed. They also insist another Kurdish politician, Hatip Dicle, whose election was canceled due to a conviction for rebel links, be allowed to take office.

"Democratic conditions were not ripe enough" to end the boycott, said Selahattin Demirtas, a leading member of the Peace and Democracy Party. Parliament is in recess until October.

Another legislator, Gulten Kisanak, said the government should meet the demands for autonomy and allowing Kurdish-language education in schools.

"The right to education in the mother tongue must be recognized as a constitutional right," the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency quoted Kisanak as saying.

The Turkish government recently took steps toward wider Kurdish-language education by allowing Kurdish-language institutes and private Kurdish courses as well as allowing Kurdish-language television broadcasts.

But the government refuses to allow lower-level education in Kurdish, fearing that it could divide the country along ethnic lines. It also regards the declaration of autonomy as a separatist move and rules out any concessions on the country's unity.

In recent weeks, the Turkish military has carried out airstrikes against suspected Kurdish hideouts in northern Iraq following a series of rebel attacks that killed dozens of soldiers. As many as 160 guerrillas were believed to have been killed in artillery fire and airstrikes as of Aug. 22, the military said.

On Sunday, Turkish warplanes hit suspected Kurdish rebel bases in the area of northern Iraq's Choman village. Village mayor Abdul-Wahid Gwani confirmed the strikes but did not have any information on casualties. Iraq's Kurd-dominated north has a relatively high degree of autonomy.

Kurdish rebels kept up their attacks over the weekend. On Sunday, the insurgents killed two village guards, who fight alongside Turkish troops against the guerrillas, said Gov. Muammer Turker of the southeastern Hakkari province. Four other village guards were wounded.

On Saturday, rebels killed two soldiers during an attack on a military patrol further north near the eastern city of Tunceli, according to the governor's office in Tunceli province.

Short link: