Kurdish lawmakers end boycott of parliament

AP News
Posted: Sep 28, 2011 9:05 AM
Kurdish lawmakers end boycott of parliament

A pro-Kurdish party on Wednesday said it is ending its four-month-old boycott of Turkey's parliament, even as tensions grow over a surge in attacks by Kurdish separatist rebels.

The lawmakers of the Peace and Democracy Party have been refusing to take an oath of office following their election in June as they pressed for the release of five pro-Kurdish legislators held on charges of rebel ties. They also wanted another Kurdish politician, Hatip Dicle, whose election was canceled due to a conviction for rebel links, to be allowed to take office.

Selahattin Demirtas, chairman of the party, however, said Wednesday that it decided to end the boycott to be able to work for peace more effectively. The party has 29 lawmakers, and those who remain free will take their oath when the 550-seat parliamentary session opens Saturday, he said.

"We hope to pave the way for democratic politics and start negotiations with all related bodies in a healthier environment to resurrect an opportunity for peace," Demirtas read from a statement in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the country's Kurdish-dominated southeast.

Kurdish rebels have been fighting for autonomy in the southeast since 1984 and keep bases in northern Iraq.

Lawmakers are to vote to extend a mandate authorizing the military to launch cross-border operations against Kurdish rebel bases in Iraq soon after parliament resumes Saturday following summer recess.

The current mandate expires on Oct. 17. The measure is expected to be swiftly approved despite strong opposition of the pro-Kurdish party.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signaled a joint military offensive with Iran against the rebels. A wing of the Kurdish rebel group is also fighting against Tehran.

Turkish warplanes have bombed suspected rebel targets in airstrikes since Aug. 17. Turkey's last major ground offensive against rebel bases was in 2008.

Earlier on Wednesday, Erdogan called on "all political parties to join preparations on the constitution with equal representation." The government has said drafting a new constitution to replace the current one, a legacy of the 1980 military coup, would improve rights and freedoms.

But the pro-Kurdish party insists the right to education in the mother tongue must be recognized as a constitutional right _ a demand that the Turkish government fears could deepen the ethnic divide in the country.

Kurds make up some 20 percent of Turkey's 74 million people.

The government has taken steps toward wider Kurdish-language education by allowing Kurdish-language institutes and private Kurdish courses as well as Kurdish television broadcasts. But it won't permit lower-level education in Kurdish.

The European Union, which Turkey is striving to join, has pushed Erdogan's government to grant more rights to the Kurds. But EU countries also have urged Kurdish lawmakers to distance themselves from the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by the U.S. and the EU.

Erdogan slammed a spate of Kurdish rebel attacks and kidnappings that have claimed the lives of at least 14 civilians along with dozens of members of the security force since July, saying "murdering innocent people does not serve any cause."

Erdogan has admitted talks with Kurdish rebel representatives and even left the door open for future talks while vowing to crush perpetrators of "terrorist attacks."

The rebels, who are increasingly targeting state employees in their fight for autonomy in the Kurdish-dominated southeast, kidnapped five teachers and one pro-government village guard late Tuesday, authorities said. Four of the teachers were abducted in Elazig province and one in neighboring Diyarbakir province. The village guard was abducted in Tunceli province.

The guerrillas also shot and killed an engineer in Hakkari province, bordering Iraq and Iran, in a separate attack on Tuesday, authorities said.

The attacks follow the killing of a pregnant woman and her 6-year-old child by the rebels during an attack on police in the city of Batman on Monday. The woman's baby, which was delivered after the attack, died Wednesday, authorities said.