Turkish PM vows Kurdish reforms despite attack

ANKARA, Hande Culpan- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed Sunday to press ahead with a plan to extend the rights of the Kurds despite what he claimed were attempts by Kurdish rebels to derail the process.
As the military flexed its muscle with parades and flypasts Sunday to mark Victory Day, four soldiers were killed in a grenade attack by Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels in southeast Turkey, near the Iraqi border.

Turkish PM vows Kurdish reforms despite attack
"I see this attack as attempt to axe, to prevent the democratic opening process," Erdogan told reporters here hours after the incident near Semdinli, Hakkari province.
"The democratic project is underway...It is not possible for us to stop in spite of those who are trying to prevent us," he added, underlining that the struggle against the PKK would be pursued with vigour.
Last month, Erdogan's government announced that it was working on a package of "courageous" reforms to boost the rights and freedoms of the Kurdish community and pave the way for the end of the 25-year bloody insurgency led by the PKK.
Ankara has remained tight-lipped on the content of the plan, but has stressed that democratic reforms lay at the heart of ending the violence.
While opposition parties argue that broader rights for the country's Kurds would pave the way for Turkey's disintegration, army chief Ilker Basbug warned earlier this week that the planned reforms must not endanger unity.
The army "respects cultural diversity", but opposes the politicisation of the issue, Basbug said Tuesday, underlining a constitutional article that describes Turkey as being an indivisible whole with Turkish as its language.
In a display to underline the army's strength and the country's unity, the military played up Sunday's ceremonies marking a military victory against invading Greek troops in 1922, under the slogan "A Strong Army, A Strong Turkey".
In the capital Ankara, some 8,000 soldiers -- nearly double the number in previous events -- marched before civilian and military leaders as nearly 50 aircraft flew past and dozens of tanks rolled by.
The general was greeted with patriotic slogans when he joined flag-waving spectators after the parade as the crowd broke into applause and chanted, "Turkey is Turkish and will stay Turkish! The motherland is indivisible!".
"Nobody can break Turkey up," Basbug told a young girl in tears who said she was opposed to the government's plan, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Some 45,000 people have been killed since 1984 when the PKK, blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and much of the international community, picked up arms for self-rule in the southeast.
Last month, the rebels announced that they were extending a ceasefire in their campaign until September 1 in anticipation of a peace plan to be announced by their jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan.
There are still occasional clashes in the southeast although their frequency has decreased considerably.
In a bid to boost its bid to join the European Union, Turkey has in recent years granted the Kurds a series of cultural liberties, including the launch of a public Kurdish-language television.
Kurdish activists however say the reforms are inadequate to encourage PKK militants to lay down arms.
A senior ruling party lawmaker said last week the Kurdish language could be introduced as an elective course in Turkish schools as part of the new plan.
Media reports say the government may also consider restoring the Kurdish names of villages that have been renamed, lifting a ban on using Kurdish in political posters and modifying the definition of Turkish nationality in the constitution.

Sunday, August 30th 2009
Hande Culpan

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