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Turkey Pledges More Democracy for Minority Kurds


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to press ahead with reforms for his country's large Kurdish minority in line with Turkey's drive to join the European Union. The prime minster's remarks come amid renewed fighting between Turkish security forces and separatist Kurdish rebels.

Mr. Erdogan said military means were not adequate to solve Turkey's festering Kurdish problem and that cultural, economic and social measures were required to address the grievances of the country's restive Kurdish minority. Mr. Erdogan was speaking during what many analysts term a groundbreaking meeting with a group of Turkish scholars and human rights activists. Members of the group issued a joint call last month for the rebel group known as the PKK to end its campaign of violence that resumed in June of last year.

Scores of Turkish soldiers have died in the attacks that are spreading across Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast region. The rebels drew sharp criticism from western governments last month after launching a string of bomb attacks that killed several civilians including British and Irish tourists.

Wednesday's meeting between Mr. Erdogan and Turkish peace activists was held in part to allay mounting fears that Turkish security forces will resort to the brutal tactics they employed in their 15-year-long campaign against the PKK that culminated in the capture of its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in 1999.

The rebels called off their fight the same year and withdrew to mountain bases in Kurdish controlled northern Iraq.

Mr. Erdogan is widely expected to repeat his pledges for further democracy and investment in the economically depressed Kurdish region during a trip to the province of Diyarbakir, on Friday.

Analysts say the rebels have resumed their fight in a bid to pressure Mr. Erdogan's government to sit down at the negotiating table. Mr. Erdogan has rejected rebel calls to negotiate a truce saying he will not talk to "terrorists". Turkey has meanwhile renewed calls for the United States to take military action against several thousand PKK rebels entrenched in the mountains of northern Iraq.

The PKK issue is set to dominate talks that are scheduled to take place next month in Ankara between Turkish military officials and General John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command that is responsible for U.S. military operations in Iraq. Washington has not acted against the rebels saying it cannot afford to open a second front when its forces are fighting insurgents in Central Iraq.

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