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Kurdish rebel leader Ocalan calls on fighters to end armed struggle

Jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan has again called on his fighters to end a four-decade-long armed conflict in Turkey. His message was delivered at Kurdish New Year celebrations.

In a message read out by pro-Kurdish lawmaker Sirri Sureyya Onder, Ocalan called for a congress of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to take a decision to abandon its armed struggle.

"A congress should be organized to bring an end to the 40-year struggle against the Turkish Republic," Ocalan said in the message, which was delivered to tens of thousands of Kurds at Newroz celebrations in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir.

"History and our people are demanding from us a democratic solution and peace in line with the spirit of the age," the message went on, saying the insurgency had "become unsustainable."

However, Ocalan stopped short of calling for an immediate end to the armed conflict.

The Kurdish rebel leader, who has been in jail since 1999, issued a previous appeal for peace at Newroz celebrations in 2013, calling for a historic ceasefire to end hostilities. However, the PKK later halted the withdrawal of its fighters from Turkish territory, saying Ankara had reneged on its promises to increase rights for Kurds.

Tiny steps to peace

Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan, then prime minister, started talks with Ocalan in late 2012 to end the Kurdish insurgency, but negotiations have brought only faltering progress.

In a recent positive sign, however, government ministers have appeared together with a delegation from the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic party to discuss Ocalan's peace proposals, which include PKK disarmament.

Some 40,000 people have died in the course of the conflict, with the PKK being deemed a terrorist organization not only by Ankara, but by the European Union and the United States.

The group originally wanted to create an independent Kurdish homeland, but has now scaled back its demands, calling among other things for autonomy for local governments and Kurdish-language education.

Kurds make up around 20 percent of Turkey's population of 78 million people.

tj/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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