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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 06:42 GMT 07:42 UK
Turkey to ease restrictions on Kurds
Turkish soldiers
Emergency rule was imposed in 1987
Turkey's National Security Council has agreed to lift the state of emergency which has been in force for the past 15 years in two predominantly Kurdish provinces.

The council - which groups Turkey's top generals and government leaders - said emergency rule in two other eastern provinces would be lifted in four months time.

Kurdish women in Turkey
There are 12 million Kurds in Turkey
The measure is one of the European Union's conditions for opening negotiations for Turkey's membership.

The council called on the EU to set out a timetable to start talks for Turkey's eventual membership before the end of the year.

For the first time, the Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit, did not attend the council meeting because of ill-health.

'Last' extension

In a statement, the council pledged to speed up other reforms needed to join the EU, but did not detail the measures it would adopt.

The EU has demanded that Ankara grant its 12 million strong Kurdish minority more rights and abolish the death penalty.

The state of emergency allows provincial governors to impose curfews, ban rallies and call in soldiers to suppress illegal demonstrations.

It is due to end on 1 July in the provinces of Hakkari and Tunceli, according to the council, and will be extended "one last time" in Diyarbakir and Sirnak.

Emergency rule was first imposed in 13 provinces in 1987, but was gradually lifted as fighting between Kurdish separatists and government troops died down.

Kurdish rebels fighting for self-rule in the south-east of the country declared a ceasefire in 1999, but the military rejected it and said it would continue fighting.

About 37,000 people have been killed in the 15-year-long conflict.

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