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Turkish Leaders Seek to Quell Tensions With Kurds


The Turkish prime minister made a surprise visit Monday to the country's troubled Kurdish region amid continuing protests over a bombing allegedly carried out by Turkish security forces. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who traveled to the town of Semdinli near the Iraqi border, got a chilly reception from local residents.

For many Kurds angered by perceived government indifference to their problems, Mr. Erdogan's trip to the small town of Semdinli was long overdue. His appeals for calm were countered by calls from a small crowd for the local governor to resign.

Mr. Erdogan stressed that the Kurds' separate ethnic identity had to be respected. But all Turkish citizens regardless of their ethnic background needed to respect the law and embrace the unity of the Turkish state.

Hakkari province where Semdinli is located is one of the most remote, isolated and neglected corners of Turkey. Kurdish nationalist sentiment runs strong and rebels of the outlawed separatist Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK command significant support. The rebels resumed their 15-year-long armed campaign last year after a five year lull that followed the capture of their leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999.

The recent explosion in Semdinli is the latest in a string of bombings that have occurred in the region over the past month. Turkish authorities have blamed the PKK for the violence. The group is on the U.S. State Department and the European Union's official list of terrorist organizations.

Accusations that the Semdinli bombing was carried out by rogue elements in the security forces surfaced after an angry crowd pursued and sought to lynch the alleged perpetrators.

Opposition lawmakers investigating the incident say two of those men proved to be military policemen. Their car was registered in the name of the local gendarmerie or paramilitary police. It reportedly contained maps on which the bombed bookstore was marked.

Mr. Erdogan renewed vows in Semdinli to track down and punish those responsible for the incident. But opposition lawmakers say Mr. Erdogan may have to back off if the trail of the investigation leads to senior members of Turkey's powerful armed forces. That in turn, they say, could further alienate the Kurds and re-inforce support for the PKK.