Turkey probes pro-Kurdish party

Türkiye Materials 9 November 2007 16:51 (UTC +04:00)

( AP ) - Turkish prosecutors launched a probe into a pro-Kurdish party Friday after it demanded autonomy for Kurds living in the country's southeast, a call that comes amid heightened tensions over how the country should deal with separatist Kurdish rebels.

The prosecutor's office in Ankara said it will examine the statements made during the congress of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party on Thursday to determine whether they violate laws which make separatism and calling for a federal structure within Turkey a crime.

The party, which won 20 seats in parliament in July elections, demanded more rights for the Kurdish minority and autonomy for the Kurds living in the southeast.

"It is envisaged that each autonomous section is represented with its own colors and symbols and creates its own democratic administration, although the national flag and official language remain valid for the entire nation of Turkey," the party said in a statement Friday.

The party also called for decentralization and the establishment of regional assemblies which would independently be in charge of social services, education, cultural activities and developing regional economies. Under the proposed model, the governors - who are currently appointed by the central government - will also receive orders from the regional assemblies, the party said.

The party also called for the recognition of Kurds in Turkey as a distinct minority and said it was ready to broker peace between Turkey and Kurdish rebels. Around one-fifth of Turkey's 70 million population are Kurds.

In apparent reference to the Kurdish party, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that "Anyone who has destructive aims and goals against this country is the enemy of the Turkish people."

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish politicians say the measures fall short of their expectations.

Turkish leaders often accuse the Kurdish party of having ties to the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. Turkish leaders insist that the political party should first declare the PKK a terrorist organization to prove their allegiance to Turkey. Both the U.S. and the European Union have labeled the PKK a terrorist organization.

The call from the party comes as Turkish troops are poised for a possible cross-border offensive against PKK hideouts in northern Iraq. A series of hit-and-run attacks by rebels has left nearly 50 dead, primarily soldiers, since Sept. 29.

It was not clear if the prosecutor's office would consider the party statement as evidence in proving it has become a center of separatist activities linked to the rebel group. Several predecessors of the Kurdish party have been shut down by Turkey's Constitutional Court on similar grounds in the past.

A small Turkish flag was hung in the congress hall but the Turkish national anthem was not played and no picture of Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was hung, according to reports, signs perceived by authorities as being rebellious.

During Thursday's congress, the party elected Nurettin Demirtas - a man once convicted of membership in the PKK - as its new chairman, and he quickly pressed for rights for Kurds similar to those granted to Turks in Bulgaria.

During the communist era, Bulgaria's Turks were under pressure to change their names and were deprived of the right to use their language, religion and customs.

The repression ended in 1989 after 320,000 people fled to Turkey, leading to international pressure on the Bulgarian government to give rights to the remaining Turks. Most of the Turks who fled to Turkey later returned to Bulgaria.

"In Bulgaria, the problems of Turks were solved by giving them rights. We also want to solve these problems through democratic autonomy and the constitution," daily Milliyet quoted Demirtas as saying.

Demirtas was convicted of membership in the PKK as a student and spent some 10 years in prison. He replaced Ahmet Turk, who stepped down from the party's chairmanship for health reasons.

Meanwhile, a party legislator, Fatma Kurtulan, confirmed on Friday that she was still married to a wanted rebel commander, Salman Kurtulan, but said they had been separated for 13 years.