Turkey submits Kurdish reforms to parliament

AFP , Friday 6 Dec 2013

Parliamentarians sitting during a session in the Turkish Parliament in Ankara (Photo: Reuters)

The Turkish government has formally submitted to parliament a package of reforms aimed at boosting the rights of the country's Kurdish community, a parliamentary source said Friday.

But Kurdish politicians say the so-called "democratisation" proposals -- which also cover issues such as punishments for hate crimes -- are still far from adequate.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in September that his government would relax long-standing restrictions on the use of Kurdish language, among other measures including the lifting of a ban on the wearing of Islamic headscarves in state institutions.

However, Kurdish politicians say the reforms fall far short of expectations, accusing Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) of trying to buy time and being focused solely on elections next year.

"They are all very symbolic and far from meeting the demands of our people," Sirri Sakik of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) told AFP.

The reforms include education in Kurdish in private schools, election campaigns in Kurdish and the removal of a quirky ban on the use of the letters Q, W and X, which are used in Kurdish spelling but not in Turkish.

But Kurds are also demanding the release of Kurdish prisoners and political activists, the lifting of restrictions on Kurdish-language education in state schools and reducing the 10-percent election threshold required to secure seats in the 550-seat parliament.

Erdogan's proposals were intended to break a deadlock in the peace process with the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which took up arms for self-rule in the Kurdish-majority southeast in 1984.

In September, the PKK announced it was suspending the withdrawal of its fighters from Turkish soil, accusing Ankara of not keeping its promises of reform.

The AKP package also includes planned legislation on hate crimes but the draft text falls short of meeting European standards, according to Turkish media.

The draft calls for penalties of up to three years in jail for crimes based on race, nationality, skin colour, gender, disability, political views, beliefs or religion.

But it notably excludes crimes based on ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Since the PKK, classified as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and its Western allies, launched its insurgency about 45,000 people have lost their lives.

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