Middle East

Kurds in Istanbul call for jailed leader's release

Demonstrators wave pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party flags during a rally to celebrate the spring festival of Newroz in Istanbul March 17, 2013. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

ISTANBUL: Tens of thousands of Kurds rallied in Istanbul on Sunday urging the release of jailed rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is expected to call a ceasefire this week as hopes grow for peace with Ankara.

Gathering in the city's Kazlicesme square to mark the upcoming Kurdish New Year or Newroz, participants demanded the freedom of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) who has been in prison since 1999.

According to a draft peace plan, Ocalan is set to call for a long-sought ceasefire on March 21, the day of the Kurdish New Year, and for rebel fighters to lay down arms by August.

The PKK is branded a terrorist group by Turkey and its Western allies.

Late last year, Turkey's secret services resumed negotiations with Ocalan with the ultimate aim of ending the PKK's fight for autonomy in the southeast that has claimed more than 45,000 lives since 1984.

As part of the new peace push, Turkish authorities have allowed Kurdish lawmakers to visit Ocalan in his island prison on two occasions.

After the last visit in February, Ocalan provided Kurdish representatives with letters containing the draft peace plan.

In a move billed as a goodwill gesture, the PKK on Wednesday released eight Turkish prisoners who had been held by the rebel group in northern Iraq for some two years.

A third meeting between Ocalan and Kurdish lawmakers is scheduled for next week.





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