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Last Updated: Friday, 19 October 2007, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Kurds 'will fight Turkish raids'
Massoud Barzani, president of the northern region of Iraq
Barzani repeated calls for talks between Turkey and Iraq's Kurds
The president of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq has said his people will defend themselves if Turkey attacks Kurdish rebels based in the region.

Massoud Barzani rejected accusations that his government provided cover for Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) fighters.

On Tuesday, the Turkish parliament authorised cross-border raids against the PPK which it blames for attacks on soldiers and civilians in Turkey.

Ankara has said that military action is not imminent.

"We frankly say to all parties: if they attack the region of Kurdistan under whatever pretext, we will be completely ready to defend our democratic experiment and the dignity of our people and the sanctity of our homeland," Mr Barzani said.

He said Iraqi Kurds were not to blame for the actions of the PKK and reiterated a call for Turkey to hold talks with the Kurdish authorities in the regional capital, Irbil.

The government in Ankara has refused to talk directly to the Kurdish regional authority in northern Iraq, insisting all its dealings must go through Baghdad.

Through Baghdad

BBC Baghdad correspondent Ian Pannell says that in reality any attempt to deal with the PKK will ultimately have to go through the Kurdish Regional Government rather than Baghdad, but that would be a step too far for Ankara.

PKK rebels in northern Iraq
PKK fighters have launched attacks on Turkish territory from Iraq

Any direct talks with the northern government would amount to a tacit acceptance that the Kurds in Iraq have precisely the kind of autonomy that the PKK is fighting for in Turkey, our correspondent says.

A Kurdish website has quoted the PKK as saying it will not leave the Iraqi Kurdistan region and is prepared for a confrontation. The source cannot be verified.

On Thursday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari called on Kurdish rebels to leave the north of the country as soon as possible, to avoid the area being targeted by the Turkish military.

Also on Thursday, thousands of Iraqi Kurds staged protests against Turkey's threats of invasion in the cities of Irbil and Dohuk.

The United States called on Turkey "to refrain from actions inside Iraq that could cause an international crisis".

The PKK has been fighting for autonomy in south-eastern Turkey since 1984 and more than 30,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

The PKK has been labelled a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU.

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