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Turkey presents bill to revive Kurdish peace talks

  • Turkish-Kurdish woman waves a PKK flag during a demonstration in support of Syrian Kurds, in the southeastern Turkish town of Nusaybin, near the Turkish-Syrian border January, 26, 2013. (REUTERS/Sertac Kayar)

ISTANBUL: The Turkish government submitted a reform bill to parliament Thursday to revive the stalled peace talks with Kurdish militants, in an apparent bid to seek votes from Turkey's biggest minority group in August presidential polls.

The six-article package of reforms will put the peace process under legal protection and grant legal immunity to the key actors - including politicians, bureaucrats and the spy agency - involved in the peace talks with Kurdish rebels, a parliamentary source told AFP.

Titled "The Bill to End Terrorism and Strengthen Social Solidarity", it also aims to facilitate the rehabilitation of militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who give up arms to return "home" to Turkey.

It gives the government the authority to appoint individuals and bodies to carry out talks at home and abroad regarding the so-called "Kurdish question."

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government launched clandestine peace talks with the PKK's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan in 2012 to end a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives over three decades.

The rebels declared a ceasefire in March 2013, but peace talks stalled in September after the insurgents said that they were suspending their retreat from Turkish soil, accusing the government of failing to deliver on promised reforms.

The presentation of the bill comes as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) prepares on July 1 to announce its candidate for the polls - widely expected to be Erdogan.

Support from the country's Kurdish minority, who make up one fifth of the population and form a majority in the southeast, could be vital for Erdogan's success, especially if he is seeking an outright first round victory.

Speaking Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said that the reforms, which should be passed by July 25 when parliament is scheduled to go into summer recess, could be "the last steps" towards a peace deal.

"We are nearing a stage when these problems are solved, violence ends, people lay down their arms and come down from the mountains to return to normal social life," Atalay said in comments broadcast by Turkish television.

Hasip Kaplan, a deputy from the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP), described the move as a "late but very positive step towards greater recognition of Kurds."

"A legal guarantee to the peace talks has always been our top priority. It (the bill) meets our expectations," he told AFP.

Lawmakers from the HDP visited Ocalan in his prison cell on the island of Imrali near Istanbul Thursday to discuss the proposed bill.

 
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Summary

The Turkish government submitted a reform bill to parliament Thursday to revive the stalled peace talks with Kurdish militants, in an apparent bid to seek votes from Turkey's biggest minority group in August presidential polls.

The six-article package of reforms will put the peace process under legal protection and grant legal immunity to the key actors -- including politicians, bureaucrats and the spy agency -- involved in the peace talks with Kurdish rebels, a parliamentary source told AFP.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government launched clandestine peace talks with the PKK's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan in 2012 to end a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives over three decades.


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