Turkish leaders vow to fight Kurdish radicals

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s leaders promised an enhanced fight against Kurdish militants Thursday after a week of the worst street clashes in decades, but said the fight would not mean backtracking on democratic reforms that are critical to Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also demanded that Turkey’s leading pro-Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party, declare the main Kurdish rebel group a terrorist organisation, which the party so far has refused to do.

“An illegal organisation that ruthlessly lays mines, opens fire… targets anyone indiscriminately between the ages of 7 and 70… if this isn’t terrorism, what is it?” Erdogan asked.

But pro-Kurdish politicians have responded that Erdogan’s government has met with leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian group that is on many countries’ lists of terrorist organisations, and that it should be willing to meet with representatives of the pro-Kurdish party, which swept local elections in much of the overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast.

EU officials have demanded that Turkey improve cultural and democratic rights for Kurds as part of its bid to join the union, but this week’s violence puts the government in a difficult position.

Erdogan cannot be seen as being soft on what he says is separatist terrorism, but using the force of the Turkish military for a full crackdown on the violence would jeopardise the country’s EU bid.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul vowed Thursday that Turkey was determined to fight the rebel group without sacrificing democratic reforms.

“Turkey’s democratic standards will increase and strengthen, there will be no question of going back from democratic steps taken,” he said. But he also promised a “sharper struggle against terrorism.”

Pointing to the difficulties, a court in southeastern Turkey on Thursday arrested four Kurdish politicians from the Democratic Society Party who are suspected of taking part in the funerals of Kurdish rebels last week that sparked riots that have spread to Istanbul and left 16 people dead.

The arrests come amid continued violence across the country. A Kurdish militant group on Wednesday claimed responsibility for the bombing of an Istanbul office of Erdogan’s party that wounded two party workers. Separately, officials in the southeast on Wednesday reported the deaths of six more security officers, and an explosion blew apart a trash container on a busy street in Antalya, one of the country’s most important tourism destinations.

The violence began after the funerals for 14 Kurdish guerrillas killed by Turkish troops late last month.

The government often accuses the Democratic Society Party and its politicians of having links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, the banned rebel group considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. The fight with the PKK has left some 37,000 dead in Turkey since the PKK took up arms in 1984.

A violent offshoot of the PKK, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, has promised to kick up its bombing campaign against the government in response to the unrest, and has claimed two bombings since Friday.

“No civil soldier with a part in the policies of destruction will be spared from the hunts of our revenge teams,” the group said in a statement posted on its website Wednesday.

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