Page last updated at 17:01 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009

Turkey unveils reforms for Kurds

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Istanbul

A Turkish soldier patrols on a road near the Turkey-Iraq border, file pic
Turkish forces have been fighting Kurdish rebels in a 25-year conflict

The Turkish government has formally launched a peace plan to try to end the conflict in the mainly Kurdish south-east of the country.

The interior minister presented a reform package to parliament, including freedom to use the Kurdish language.

But Besir Atalay said more substantial reform to the Turkish constitution would take time.

There was no mention of the amnesty that the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has requested.

Four months after it first announced a plan to end the Kurdish conflict, the government is still having trouble spelling out what it intends to do.

"We should never forget that behind our all our problems lies injustice," Mr Atalay told MPs.

"We want everyone in this country to be treated equally," he said, but then warned that there would need to be a complete change in the mindset of the Turkish people to achieve that goal.

Easing tensions

He listed reforms the government wanted to implement soon - full freedom to use languages other than Turkish, fewer military checkpoints in the south-east, new human rights bodies and bringing back people driven from their homes by fighting.

But throughout his half-hour speech, Mr Atalay refused to refer specifically to the Kurds, whose resistance to the Turkish state is the real reason for these reforms.

Instead he chose to describe them as primarily for combating terrorism and preserving national unity.

The ferocious criticism the government has received over its initiative has clearly made it nervous, despite its commanding majority in parliament.

The leader of one nationalist party accused the government of lacking the courage to fight terrorism head-on.

In this deeply polarised society, there will certainly be many people who agree with that view.

Some 40,000 people have been killed in the 25-year Kurdish fight for autonomy.

Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader, has been in jail since 1999.

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