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Turkey PM announces reforms key to Kurdish peace process
by Staff Writers
Ankara (AFP) Sept 30, 2013

Turkey on Monday moved to scrap restrictions on the use of the minority Kurdish language among democratic reforms designed to revive the stalled peace process with the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

But the proposed reforms fell short of satisfying a key Kurdish politician.

"Turkey is irreversibly moving in the direction of democracy," Erdogan told a news conference. "This is a historic moment, an important stage."

Kurdish-language education will be permitted in private schools, and candidates in elections will be allowed to campaign in Kurdish, Erdogan said.

The reforms will also aim to ease rules preventing pro-Kurdish and other smaller parties from entering parliament, he said.

Turkey has long refused to recognise the Kurds, a largely Sunni Muslim people who were considered cofounders of the new republic born from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.

The minority of some 15 million has complained of discrimination at the hands of the Turkish state, which they claim deprived them of their Kurdish identity and stigmatised them as "mountain Turks".

Among other reforms the prime minister announced, schoolchildren will no longer be required to recite the pledge of allegiance -- "How happy is the one who calls himself a Turk" -- each morning.

In addition, towns can revert to their previous Kurdish names, and a quirky ban on the use of three letters of the Kurdish alphabet that do not exist in Turkish will be lifted, he said.

The long-awaited reforms are aimed at breaking an impasse in the peace process with the PKK, which is classified as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and many other countries.

In March the PKK's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan declared a historic ceasefire after months of clandestine negotiations with the Turkish secret service.

In return for withdrawing its fighters, the PKK demanded amendments to the penal code and electoral laws as well as the right to education in the Kurdish language and a degree of regional autonomy.

The PKK's olive branch raised hopes of an end to a nearly three-decade Kurdish insurgency in Turkey's southeast that has claimed more than 40,000 lives.

But earlier this month the rebels announced they were suspending the withdrawal of their fighters, accusing Ankara of failing to deliver the promised reforms.

Erdogan indicated Monday that scrapping a 10-percent threshold required to secure seats in Turkey's parliament would be "open to debate", noting that his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) had yet to introduce legislation on the reform.

He also said political parties that garner more than three percent of the vote would be able to receive state aid for their election campaigns. The minimum was seven percent in the past.

Parliament will discuss the proposed reforms after it returns from its summer recess on Tuesday, Erdogan said.

Kurdish politicians called the reforms unsatisfactory.

"This is not a package that meets Turkey's needs for democratisation," said Gulten Kisanak, co-chair of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

Last week, Kisanak criticised the government for drafting the reforms without consulting the BDP, saying the proposals would not help the peace process.

The reforms also included plans to return land belonging to a Syriac Christian monastery in the southeastern Mardin province which had been confiscated by the state.


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