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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 May 2005, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
Plight of Turkish Kurds continues
By Pam O'Toole
BBC News

Kurdish protesters
Turkish Kurds welcomed the European Court's ruling
The situation of Turkish Kurds has been brought back into the spotlight after a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that the 1999 trial of former Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan was unfair.

The ruling could eventually lead to a retrial for Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence for treason.

His PKK organisation fought a 15-year war against the Turkish government for an independent Kurdish state in which more than 30,000 were killed.

Since Ocalan's conviction, the Turkish government has introduced a number of limited Kurdish cultural rights as part of its drive to start accession talks with the European Union.

Language laws

In many ways, the situation of Turkey's Kurds has improved over the past six years.

After Ocalan's PKK announced a unilateral ceasefire in 1999, people in the largely Kurdish east and south-east experienced five years of relative peace.

Meanwhile, Ankara, for the first time, has allowed limited Kurdish language broadcasting and private education in Kurdish as part of its drive to join the EU.

A controversial law used to imprison people for advocating Kurdish separatism has been scrapped.

Last year, the Turkish courts released four MPs who had been jailed 10 years earlier for having links with a Kurdish separatist organisation.

Violence returns

But many Kurds would like Ankara's reforms to go further. One of the freed MPs, Leyla Zana, has called for the removal of obstacles to using the Kurdish language in the media and for pupils to be given the option of studying Kurdish during basic education.

However, some Turkish nationalists feel that the Kurds are abusing the fact that Ankara's EU bid means it is more tolerant towards the expression of dissident sentiment.

The burning of a Turkish flag during a Kurdish demonstration earlier this year caused a huge nationalist backlash.

Meanwhile, violence has returned to the south-east. The PKK is stepping up its attacks after calling off its ceasefire last year.

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09 Jun 04 |  Europe
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05 Jan 04 |  Europe
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22 Sep 03 |  Europe
Ocalan verdict angers Turkey
12 Mar 03 |  Europe
Ocalan file: Timeline
12 Mar 03 |  Europe

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