Turkey court frees 45 Kurdish suspects in militant case

ISTANBUL, March 27 Thu Mar 27, 2014 3:37pm EDT

ISTANBUL, March 27 (Reuters) - A Turkish court released 45 defendants, including journalists and political activists, accused of links to Kurdish militants on Thursday, a small step in the country's ongoing efforts to end a Kurdish insurgency.

Lawyers had demanded the release of the defendants, on trial for links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militant group, after changes to Turkey's anti-terrorism laws which reduced the maximum pre-trial detention period from 10 years to five years.

PKK fighters began withdrawing from Turkey to bases in northern Iraq last May after a ceasefire was declared but stopped the move in September, citing government failures to take steps to advance the broader peace process. Their demands included the release of political prisoners.

The ceasefire is holding despite isolated incidents of unrest. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and United States.

The PKK insurgency has marred Turkey's human rights record and crippled the economy in the mainly Kurdish southeast. More than 40,000 people have been killed in fighting since 1984, most of them Kurds.

(Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Nick Tattersall)