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Turkish PM Announces Plan to Revitalize Kurdish Region

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has unveiled the details of an ambitious $12 billion plan to re-vitalize the country's predominantly Kurdish southeast. The region has been hit hard by more than 20 years of war between the Turkish state and Kurdish insurgents of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The economic plan is seen as a key part of the government's strategy to defeat the insurgency. For VOA, Dorian Jones in Istanbul has this report.

Diyarbakir, the main city in the predominantly Kurdish southeast, was where Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his plan to transform the region.

He says what they are announcing Tuesday is not a mere report or a project. It is a well-defined, scheduled and a funded action plan to remove regional differences in economic and social development, unemployment and migration.

At the heart of the program is the completion of a plan to tap the region's major rivers through a series of dams.

When completed, Mr. Erdogan says the project will provide 4 million new jobs and quadruple the wealth of the local population as well as much needed water for irrigation.

Pro-Kurdish Mayor Osman Baydemir and other Kurdish politicians boycotted Mr. Erdogan's speech Tuesday. The Kurdish politicians were quoted by the Associated Press as saying the newest incentives did not go far enough, and they called for the Kurds to be recognized as an official minority with cultural protections and a level of political autonomy. Kurds constitute about 20 percent of Turkey's 70 million population.

The region has always been blighted by underdevelopment and poverty. But since the start of the Kurdish insurgency by the PKK in 1984, it has been on a further downward spiral both economically and socially. According to a local business association's figures, unemployment in most of the region is more than 50 percent.

Mr. Erdogan also said he would ease restrictions on the broadcasting of Kurdish on TV and radio. The prime minister claimed the program is a key part in their battle against the Kurdish insurgency.

Mr. Erdogan says all wounds caused by the terrorism will be healed. He said the greatest threat to terrorism is freedom and prosperity.

The announcement of the economic program will likely be welcomed by Washington, which has been pressing Ankara for economic reforms for the Kurds. But questions remain over how effective the government's development plan will be. In the last two decades there have been more than a dozen projects to revitalize the region, all of which observers say have failed.

Retired General Haldun Solmazturk, who spent more than a decade fighting the Kurdish insurgency, says this latest initiative could share the fate of its predecessors.

"There is a weakness of state, there is a poor governance, there is huge scale corruption throughout Turkey," he said. "I mean, as long as this weakness of the state, as long as this poor governance persists, no plan, however comprehensive will achieve anything."

But the prime minister maybe thinking more in the short term. With his AK party facing closure by the constitutional court for undermining secularism, there is growing expectation of early elections next year. His AK party in last year poll scored a surprise victory in the region and, this latest program is already being seen by observers as an attempt to build on that success in any early election.