Page last updated at 03:19 GMT, Wednesday, 25 February 2009

MP breaks language law in Turkey

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Silopi, Turkey

Ahmet Turk shown giving the speech in the Turkish parliament, 24 February 2009
Mr Turk's speech was cut on live TV

A prominent Kurdish politician has defied Turkish law by giving a speech to parliament in his native Kurdish.

Ahmet Turk was addressing his party in parliament when he suddenly switched language from Turkish to Kurdish.

The live broadcast on state TV was immediately cut, as the language is banned in parliament.

Some one-fifth of Turkey's population are ethnic Kurds, but speaking Kurdish in public was banned until the 1990s, as it was seen as a threat to unity.

The Kurdish language is, however, still banned in all state institutions and official correspondence.

Fight for votes

When Mr Turk defied the law, party members gave him a standing ovation. There was praise from Kurds here in the south east too - where people described the speech as a brave move, long overdue. They also called for all restrictions on the use of Kurdish to be lifted.

Ahmet Turk's party - the DTP - is already facing closure, accused of fuelling separatism, and his speech in Kurdish could well strengthen the case against it.

All this reflects the mounting fight for Kurdish votes in next month's important local elections.

The governing AK party has set its sights on winning in this region - and points to a new state TV channel in Kurdish as proof of its good intentions.

But many Kurds insist there is little real change here yet.

While Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently spoke Kurdish on the campaign trail to attract their votes, when ethnic Kurdish politicians use their mother tongue they are still prosecuted on a regular basis.

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