Turkey's government said on Sunday night it would "pay whatever price is needed" to crush PKK Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq after the deaths of at least 17 Turkish soldiers raised pressure in Ankara for a full military incursion across the border.
The statement followed an emergency meeting of senior cabinet members and military personnel, chaired by President Abdullah Gul, to discuss the security situation on Turkey's border with Iraq after the clash between the armed forces and the PKK in which the soldiers died. Turkish defence minister Vecdi Gonul said that 17 soldiers had been killed in the attack in the province of Hakkari early on Sunday, 16 had been injured and 10 were missing.
The incident was one of the deadliest in years and came after last week's approval by the Turkish parliament of a military raid into northern Iraq, where Ankara says the PKK is hiding out in mountain bases.
The statement said: " Turkey will not hesitate to pay whatever price is necessary to protect its rights, its laws, its indivisible unity, and its citizens. It is apparent that the terrorist organisation [the usual official reference to the PKK] aims to disrupt the unity and integrity of our society with these heinous attacks."
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister, is under military and public pressure to send the army across the Iraqi border, in the teeth of fierce opposition from the US and Iraq. The incident on Sunday led to louder calls from opposition leaders for such an incursion, although the government has insisted parliamentary approval does not mean one is imminent.
Mr Erdogan said any military response to the attacks would be taken "within the framework" of the parliamentary authorisation.
The US responded to news of the attack with an urgent call for Iraq to step up co-operation with Turkey, indicating its concern about a possible Turkish incursion.
"President Bush strongly condemns the violent attacks in Hakkari. These attacks are unacceptable and must stop now," a White House spokesman said on Sunday. "Attacks from Iraqi territory need to be dealt with swiftly by the Iraqi government and Kurdish regional authorities."
The latest violent incident overshadowed a nationwide referendum on Sunday in which Turks approved, by a two-thirds majority, changes to the constitution that would lead to the direct election of the country's next president. The result is not expected to affect the presidency of Mr Gul. ( FT )