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Turkish PM Welcomes Kurdish Rebel Leader Call for Cease-Fire

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has welcomed the jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan's overture for peace, saying his country's military would stop operations against the rebels if they stop fighting.

Mr. Erdogan made the announcement to reporters Thursday, raising hopes that a three-decade insurgency can be brought to an end.

Earlier in the day, a Kurdish lawmaker read a letter from Ocalan saying it was time for guns to be silenced and for politics to prevail.

Hailing what he called the start of a "new era," Ocalan said the time had come for "our armed elements" to withdraw beyond Turkey's borders.

The cease-fire call is likely to be in exchange for more autonomy for Kurds in Turkey and a release of Kurdish prisoners from Turkish jails.

As a show of good faith, Kurdish rebels recently released eight Turkish citizens they had been holding captive in northern Iraq.

Kurds have been fighting for self-rule in Turkey's southeast. The Erdogan administration has already granted them some new language rights, including a Kurdish-language television station.

The rebels have been fighting the Turkish state since 1984. The group, known as the PKK, initially demanded an independent Kurdish state, but later moderated its goals to greater autonomy and cultural rights for Kurds.

The conflict has claimed nearly 40,000 lives. In the last year, violence has returned to the levels of the 1990s, the height of the conflict.

Experts estimate that about 2,500 PKK rebels are based in Turkey, with the rest camped in neighboring northern Iraq.

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