Turkey faces pressure to advance Kurdish militant peace process

ISTANBUL Fri Jun 21, 2013 7:27am EDT

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's main pro-Kurdish party is pressing Ankara to advance a peace process with Kurdish militants before a parliament recess, drawing a government accusation on Friday that it was exploiting unrelated unrest to extract concessions.

Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters began pulling out of Turkish territory to bases in northern Iraq last month under a deal between the state and the group's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan to end a conflict which has killed 40,000.

In exchange for that withdrawal, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) now expects the government to enact reforms to boost the rights of the Kurdish minority, which makes up some 20 percent of Turkey's 76 million-strong population.

But there has been little evidence of progress on the issue this month with public attention focused instead on three weeks of often violent anti-government demonstrations in several cities across the country.

With parliament due to go into a three-month recess at the start of July, the BDP voiced concerns about the lack of progress in a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay and Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin on Wednesday evening.

"We told them it was important in terms of easing concerns for the government to take some concrete steps and make a statement of intent before parliament closes," BDP deputy Idris Baluken told reporters on Thursday.

Further talks were expected next week between the ruling AK Party and the BDP, which wants parliament extended to allow for reform progress. Before then another delegation of Kurdish politicians is expected to visit Ocalan this weekend.

Baluken said his party has presented the government democratization proposals such as removing obstacles to freedom of expression, changing the penal code, abolishing the anti-terror law and reforming the political parties and election law.

MILITARY ACTIVITY "EXAGGERATED"

But Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's chief adviser Yalcin Akdogan accused them of exploiting the anti-government protests, which were triggered by plans to redevelop Istanbul's Gezi Park but spiraled into a broad show of defiance against Erdogan, to boost their position.

"The BDP and PKK are trying to turn this into an opportunity for them. They are exerting pressure on the government via the Gezi incidents," Akdogan wrote in the Star newspaper on Friday.

He said the BDP was exaggerating military activity in the mainly Kurdish southeast, where the conflict with the PKK has been focused since it began in 1984.

"They have exaggerated so much that they have started to believe their own lies," Akdogan wrote, rejecting claims of new military outpost construction or increases in the numbers of state-sponsored village guards who defend against the PKK.

Top PKK commander Murat Karayilan, based in the mountains of northern Iraq, said on Wednesday the state was sabotaging the process, accusing it of "preparing for war".

Karayilan said the PKK had not engaged in armed action since January. But Turkey's military said on Friday PKK militants had fired on a helicopter carrying senior officers in Hakkari province near the Iranian and Iraqi borders on Thursday.

The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, took up arms against the state in 1984 with the aim of carving out a Kurdish state, but subsequently moderated its goal to autonomy.

(Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker in Ankara; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall/Mark Heinrich)

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