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Turkey Lifts 15-Year-Old Emergency Rule in Kurdish Region - 2002-11-30

Turkey has lifted a state of emergency in effect for 15 years in the predominantly Kurdish southeast region. With the move, Turkey has fulfilled one of the requirements for applying to join the European Union.

The decision to lift emergency rule, a form of martial law, in the predominantly Kurdish provinces of Diyarbakir and Sirnak, marks the beginning of a new era in the war-shattered region.

The decision is also set to improve Turkey's chances of joining the European Union. The EU has so far rejected Turkey's membership, in part because of continuing human rights abuses, particularly in the Kurdish-populated southeast region.

Emergency rule was imposed on Turkey's southeastern provinces in 1987, to help security forces quell a bloody separatist insurgency, launched by rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. More than 30,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

Emergency rule granted local security forces and the local government sweeping powers. Human rights groups have maintained the special powers for Turkish authorities led to human rights abuses in the region, including torture and disappearances.

As the insurgency began to wind down in the late 1990s, the Ankara government began to ease emergency rule in the southeastern provinces. The capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan by Turkish special forces in 1999 marked a turning point in the conflict. Ocalan, who was sentenced to death by a Turkish court after being convicted on treason charges, called off his rebellion in September 1999. The cease-fire has been largely holding ever since.

In August, Turkey's parliament adopted a series of democratic reforms that have satisfied some of the country's estimated 12 million Kurds' demands for greater rights. These include abolishing the death penalty, except in times of war, and easing bans on using the Kurdish language.

The Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, which swept to power in recent elections, has pledged to accelerate the pace of reforms, and says that securing Turkey's membership in the European Union is among its chief priorities.