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Turkish Parliament Eases Restrictions Against Kurds - 2001-09-26

Turkey's parliament is pushing through a series of sweeping legislative reforms in line with efforts to join the European Union. The reforms include constitutional amendments easing restrictions on broadcasting and publishing in the Kurdish language.

Turkey's 550-member parliament has been working almost non-stop since Monday to push through a package of 37 reforms, which they hope will bring Turkey closer to its long-cherished goal of European Union membership.

Turkey was accepted as a candidate for E.U. membership in 1999. It was told then that it needed to improve its treatment of minorities and human rights.

In what western diplomats here termed a major step forward, the parliament Tuesday voted in favor of lifting bans on broadcasting and publishing in the Kurdish language. Some 12 million of Turkey's total population of around 60 million are believed to be ethnic Kurds.

Earlier, the parliament also approved articles that reduce the maximum period that suspects can be held without charge from seven to four days, as well as measures that reduce restrictions on freedom of expression.

Even so, some Turkish lawmakers express dissatisfaction with the changes, saying they are not far-reaching enough.

Hashim Hashimi, an ethnic Kurdish lawmaker from the conservative Motherland Party, which shares power in Turkey's three-party coalition government, says the Turkish constitution should be scrapped altogether, a view that has been aired already by the country's president and senior judges.

The parliament also stopped short of lifting the death penalty, which is another condition set by the European Union for Turkey's membership. Instead, lawmakers agreed to abolish the death penalty for ordinary criminals but not those accused of terror crimes.

The current constitution was drawn up in 1982 by Turkey's generals after they seized power in 1980.

There have been five attempts so far to amend the constitution and only 23 articles have been changed in the past 19 years.