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Turkish PM says Kurd MPs must call PKK "terrorists"

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday he would only meet leaders of a pro-Kurdish party represented in parliament if they agreed to recognize Kurdish PKK guerrillas as “terrorists”.

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses MPs from his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara February 26, 2008. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

The Democratic Society Party (DTP) campaigns for more freedoms and autonomy for Turkey’s large ethnic Kurdish minority but is also believed to have close links to the PKK militants, who have been battling Turkish troops for more than two decades.

“As the prime minister of the Turkish Republic, I cannot meet the DTP, which sits under parliament’s roof, as long as they do not recognize the separatist PKK as a terrorist organization,” Erdogan said in televised remarks.

Turkey, the European Union and the United States all brand the PKK a terrorist organization. Washington provided vital intelligence to Turkish troops during their recent land operation into neighboring northern Iraq to crush PKK rebels there.

The DTP, which has 20 members of parliament, has always refused to condemn the PKK but the party says it wants a peaceful, democratic resolution of the Kurdish issue in Turkey.

DTP leaders have held talks in recent days with President Abdullah Gul, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek and the speaker of Turkey’s parliament, Koksal Toptan. They especially urged the gently-spoken Gul to play an active role on the Kurdish issue.

But Erdogan accused the DTP of promoting ethnic nationalism and said they could not claim to represent Turkey’s estimated 12 million Kurds or the southeast region where many of them live.

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Private broadcaster CNN Turk quoted the DTP as saying Erdogan’s latest comments would stir tensions in society.

In last year’s parliamentary elections, Erdogan’s ruling centre-right, pro-business AK Party received the support of many voters in the southeast who are weary of PKK-related conflict and want a share in Turkey’s rising living standards.

The AK Party hopes to wrest control of key cities such as Diyarbakir from the DTP in municipal elections due in 2009.

This week, Erdogan said his government would invest up to $12 billion in southeast Turkey over a five-year period in an effort to drain support for the PKK. It would also allow a state television channel to broadcast in the Kurdish language.

The EU, which Turkey hopes to join, has long urged Ankara to remove restrictions on the Kurdish language and culture.

Ankara blames the PKK for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since the group launched its armed campaign for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984. Turkey’s military says it killed 240 PKK rebels during its recent eight-day land offensive in northern Iraq and also lost 27 of its own men.

Reporting by Gareth Jones; Editing by Jon Boyle