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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.
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)