MADRID (Reuters) - Turkey’s government may seek an extension of its parliamentary mandate to attack Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq when the current authorization expires in October, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday.
Turkish armed forces began bombing targets of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) inside northern Iraq after the Ankara parliament approved a resolution on October 17 providing the legal basis for operations over a 12-month period.
“We hope our fight against terrorism ends quickly, but I can’t say when it will end,” Erdogan told business leaders in Madrid, where he was due to attend the Alliance of Civilisations forum that aims to foster ties between the West and Islam.
“If it doesn’t end, we will ask parliament for authorization to be able to continue it,” said Erdogan, speaking via a Spanish interpreter.
Turkey claims the right under international law to carry out cross-border operations and has been receiving intelligence from the United States, its NATO ally, to pinpoint the PKK targets.
As well as air and artillery strikes, Turkish commandos have staged limited raids into Iraqi territory. But commentators say a full-scale invasion is unlikely despite the presence of up to 100,000 Turkish troops along the border.
Ankara blames the PKK for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since 1984, when it began its fight for an ethnic homeland in southeastern Turkey. The United States and European Union, like Turkey, classify the PKK as a terrorist organization.
Erdogan reaffirmed plans to ease Turkey’s ban on women wearing headscarves in universities despite stiff opposition from the country’s secular elite, including the army generals.
“In Europe, in the United States, there are people attending university wearing headscarves,” Erdogan said,
“But in Turkey, a country which is 99 percent Muslim, we have this problem,” he said, adding that a proposal to ease the ban would be included in a draft constitution.
Erdogan pledged that within a month his government would propose an amendment to article 301 of the penal code which makes it a crime to insult “Buckishness”.
The European Union, which Ankara hopes to join, says the article stifles free speech and must be changed. It has been used against dozens of writers and journalists including Nobel Literature Laureate Orhan Pamuk.
Turkey’s justice minister had originally said the article would be sent to parliament last week but divisions within the government over the scope of the change — which is opposed by powerful nationalist parties — have caused delay.
The Alliance of Civilisations forum, proposed by Spain in 2005 and co-sponsored at the United Nations by Turkey, aims to find ways to breach the cultural gap between the Muslim and Western worlds.
Spain has supported Turkey in its bid to join the European Union, although former prime minister Felipe Gonzalez, who has been appointed to head a new “reflection group” on the EU’s future, has said the large Muslim country should not join.
Editing by Giles Elgood