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Kurdish allowed in court

January 25, 2013

Turkey's parliament has voted to allow Kurds to use their own language in court. The move long demanded by Turkey's minority could break a deadlock at trials of hundreds of Kurds suspected of having links to rebels.

ANTALYA, TURKEY - DECEMBER 14: Turkish flags are flown in front of the court of Antalya where German student Marco Weiss stands trial on December 14, 2007 in Antalya, Turkey. Marco Weiss, a 17-year-old high school student from the German town of Uelzen, has been detained since early April 2007 over allegations that he engaged in under-age sex with a 13-year-old girl from Manchester while on holiday in the southern Turkish resort town of Side. (Photo by Ilker Akgungor/Getty Images)
Image: Getty Images

Turkey's parliament voted 238-41 late Thursday with support coming from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK Party and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

During a heated debate, the BDP was, however, critical of a requirement in the legislation that defendants speaking Kurdish pay for translators.

So far, Kurds who spoke Turkish were forced to defend themselves in Turkish.

Last year, hundreds of jailed suspected members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) staged a hunger strike to press demands for judicial reform, including freedom to speak Kurdish in court.

That 68-day protest was ended in November through the intervention of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan amid exploratory peace consultations.

A three-decade-long insurgency in Turkey's southeast has claimed more than 40,000 lives. Guerillas took up arms in 1984. The PKK is classified as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Talks with Ocalan

Although Erdogan has backed military reprisals – also against PKK rebels in northern Iraq - his government is reported to have also held talks via intelligence officials with Ocalan who is imprisoned on Imrali island, south of Istanbul.

Under a framework deal, the government promised reforms to boost Kurdish rights in return for PKK disarmament, according to Turkish media close to the government. A reported "roadmap" has not been confirmed.

In a cabinet reshuffle on Thursday, Erdogan picked Istanbul's former governor, Muammer Guler, as replacement for Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin who hails from Mardin in Turkey's southeast.

Sahin had drawn criticism for comments he made about a botched Turkish air strike in late 2011 that killed civilians instead of Kurdish separatists.

ipj/hc (AFP, Reuters, AP)