Posted by: hevallo | March 26, 2011

>Kurdish Leader: "Turkish Prime Minister Sends Selams to Tahrir but Sends Tanks to Gas the Kurds!"

>ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has welcomed the cries for change that have swept the Middle East, but protesters say he is ignoring similar calls from his country’s Kurdish minority.

Pro-Kurdish activists are accusing him of hypocrisy, and embarking on a campaign of civil disobedience to push for greater cultural and political rights for Kurds, who make up around 20 percent of Turkey’s 74 million population.

“The prime minister who sends greetings to (Egypt’s) Tahrir Square while sending tanks and gas bombs at us, should know that the (Kurdish) people have been seeking their freedom in their Tahrir squares,” said Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of Turkey’s main Kurdish party, referring to the square in Cairo where weeks of unrelenting protests forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign.

Turkey is a developing democracy and has a track record of reform unlike other countries in the region, but the Kurdish issue continues to be a major obstacle to doemestic harmony. The campaign has already led to all-night sit-in demonstrations, a female Kurdish legislator slapping a police officer in the face, another threatening to throw a stone at police and a mayor jumping on top of an armored personnel carrier.

It is likely to increase tensions in Turkey’s troubled southeast in the run-up to elections on June 12, when the Kurdish party, Peace and Democracy will be trying to thwart Erdogan’s ruling party from making inroads in its traditional stronghold.

The campaign has also coincided with an increase in violence between the Turkish military and Kurdish rebels after a six-month lull in one of the world’s longest-running conflicts.

Turkish troops killed four Kurdish rebels in a clash near the city of Bingol on Friday, increasing the number of rebels killed since the truce ended on Feb. 28 to seven, the military said. An officer and a pro-government village guard were wounded.

On Thursday, Kurdish rebels launched rockets at a police station at a town in the mainly Kurdish Diyarbakir province, weeks after the rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, announced an end to a unilateral cease-fire declared in August. No casualties were reported.

In 2009, Erdogan initiated reforms to bring a peaceful solution to the conflict with the rebels, including establishing an all-Kurdish television station and Kurdish language departments at universities. He even suggested that state officials were in talks with jailed Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

However, the reforms stalled months later, after a group of rebels, dressed in guerrilla fatigues, made a triumphant return to Turkey from bases in northern Iraq, causing a public backlash in the country.

“There are those who hope to gain from the divisions that will come about with violence,” Faruk Celik, the minister in charge of religious affairs, said of the Kurds’ insubordination campaign.

Before this week’s deaths, the PKK, which has been fighting for autonomy since 1984, argued that the government had not responded to its demands and was making political gains, taking advantage of the lull in fighting ahead of the elections. They accused Erdogan of prosecuting elected Kurdish mayors, ignoring calls to investigate allegations of mass Kurdish graves in the country’s southeast, and failing to improve prison conditions for imprisoned leader Ocalan.

In a statement, the rebels said the government had not lifted a 10-percent electoral threshold that makes it more difficult for Kurdish lawmakers to be elected to parliament. They also lamented the fact that contacts between Ocalan and some government officials had not made progress.

Peace and Democracy wants Kurdish education in schools, the release of mayors jailed for alleged links to the rebels and an end to military strikes against the rebels. It will field independent candidates in the June elections, in order to overcome the 10 percent barrier that keeps smaller parties out of parliament.

The civil disobedience campaign has seen Kurdish activists in several towns and cities stage protests in front of government offices, occupy parks and roads, and erect tents where protesters can gather. Turkish police, in return, have blocked Kurds from reaching the sites, brought down some tents or prevented activists from setting them up. Dozens of protesters have also been arrested.

In one clash during a Kurdish festival in the town of Silopi, Peace and Democracy legislator Sebahat Tuncel rushed toward plainclothes police and slapped one. Another legislator, Bengi Yildiz, dressed in a khaki outfit favored by the rebels, was filmed holding a stone in his hand.

On Thursday, three Kurdish politicians were photographed sitting on chairs, blocking a road, under umbrellas to protect them from torrential rains. Diyarbakir’s mayor, Osman Baydenir, hopped on top of a police vehicle and said the vehicle was bought with taxes levied from Kurds as well as Turks.

“Until our demands are heard by the government and until concrete steps are taken, we will remain on the fields and on the squares,” said Demirtas, the party’s leader.

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