Turkey to unveil reforms key to Kurdish peace next week: Erdogan says

Reuters
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan attends a ceremony marking the 91st anniversary of Victory Day at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, in Ankara
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Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (C) attends a ceremony marking the 91st anniversary of Victory …

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday he would announce next week a package of reforms designed to strengthen democracy and keep on track a fragile peace process to end an insurgency by Kurdish militants.

The announcement of the "democratization package" follows the declaration this week by the armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that it had halted its withdrawal of fighters from Turkey because the government had failed to take steps it had agreed to.

Kurdish politicians are seeking reforms to allow full Kurdish-language education, soften anti-terrorism laws, lower the electoral threshold to enter parliament from 10 percent and strengthen local government, but it was unclear how far the package would go in satisfying these demands.

The PKK started pulling out of Turkey in May but the push to end a conflict that has cost more than 40,000 lives has weakened, with both sides accusing each other of failing to keep their side of peace deal.

"We've spent hours on this democratization package," Erdogan said at a conference of businessmen. "Hopefully tomorrow we will discuss the last articles, and I think next week we will announce the democratization package at a big news conference."

A senior Justice Ministry official told Reuters that cabinet would discuss the package on September 16.

Parliament may convene before the end of its summer recess on October 1 to vote on the package, Erdogan said previously.

At stake is a bid to end a three-decade conflict with the PKK that has tarnished Turkey's human rights record and undermined its economy.

Abdullah Ocalan, the group's jailed leader, declared a halt to hostilities in March after months of talks with the state.

That ceasefire has largely held, but the PKK has said clashes could resume if Ankara does not take concrete steps by the start of September.

Erdogan has invested much political capital in the process, which has enjoyed strong public support but is increasingly attracting fierce nationalist criticism over perceived concessions to militants officially deemed terrorists.

The delicate peace process has taken on an additional urgency for Turkey as Kurdish militias fighting in neighboring Syria's civil war push for greater autonomy for parts of northern Syria, just over the border.

Aside from Kurdish-related reforms, measures believed to have been under discussion include the reopening of the Halki Greek Orthodox seminary on an island near Istanbul, removing restrictions on the wearing of Islamic headscarves and boosting the rights of the Alevi minority, the official said.

Also under consideration, months after the country was shaken by anti-government protests that stirred accusations of police brutality, were changes in the law regulating public meetings and protests. The package could also end prosecution of suspects as terrorists if they are not in a militant group's hierarchy and have not been involved in violent acts, he added.

While the planned reforms are wide ranging, the peace process is seen as the key motivation for the package.

(Writing by Daren Butler; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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