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Turkey

Turkish PM unveils reforms to increase rights of Kurdish minority

Turkey’s prime minister has unveiled a package of reforms meant in part to rescue a fragile peace process with Kurdish insurgents. The plans also included a partial lifting of a ban on Islamic headscarves.

Among the reforms announced by Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan in Ankara on Monday was a measure allowing private schools to offer some classes in the Kurdish language. Another lifted a ban on three letters that are used in Kurdish but do not exist in Turkish. In future, the letters Q, W, and X are to be allowed on official documents. In addition, Kurds are to be allowed to give their cities Kurdish names.

Erdogan said that, from now on, Kurdish politicians seeking elected office would be allowed to campaign using their native tongue. He also said the Turkish parliament would hold a debate on whether to lower the threshold of votes needed for parties to enter the legislature to 5 percent - or even remove it entirely. The current 10 percent threshold is one of the highest in the world and is seen as a major barrier to Kurdish parties entering parliament.

"Today our country, our nation, is experiencing an historic moment. It is passing through a very important stage. We are taking important steps to make Turkey even greater," Erdogan told reporters in the capital. "Our people's greatest wish is to strengthen our domestic peace, further our social cohesion and solidarity, and fortify our tranquillity," he added.

The European Union, which Turkey has long sought to join, welcomed the reforms announced on Monday.

The reforms held a "prospect for progress on many important issues," said Peter Stano, a spokesman for the EU's enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fule. "We will closely follow up the implementation, of course, and the translation of the proposals into real life, into legislation and into practical actions," he added.

Disappointment among Kurds

Kurdish leaders, though, expressed disappointment at the long-awaited reforms.

"The democratization package does not meet our expectations," the co-chairwoman of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, Gultan Kisanak, told reporters. "The package does not have the capacity to overcome the blockages in the peace process," she added.

Erdogan's reforms are seen as an effort to support efforts to make peace with insurgents from the Kurdish Workers' Party, the PKK. Turkish officials began peace talks with jailed PKK leader Adullah Ocalan about a year ago, and back in March he called a ceasefire. In recent months, however, PKK officials had warned that the peace process was in jeopardy because of a lack of concessions from Erdogan's government. Kurds make up about 20 percent of Turkey's population.

Headscarf ban relaxed

Also among the reforms announced on Monday was the easing of a partial ban on the wearing of Islamic headscarves. Under the new regulations, civil servants would be allowed to wear them while at work. The ban remains in place however, for court judges, prosecutors and members of the security forces.

pfd/mkg (dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP)