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Democratization is top priority for Turkish gov’t in 2010

16 December 2009 [15:03] - TODAY.AZ
The government has set its main priority for next year as carrying through with its democratization package, which includes addressing the problems of the country's Kurds, Alevis and Roma despite the social and political backlash it has had to face from nationalist groups, particularly regarding its moves to find a settlement for Turkey's decades-old Kurdish problem. In fact, the government plans to start the year with some historic steps to tackle the Kurdish question.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who returned from a visit to the US and Mexico on Sunday, sat down with senior officials from his Justice and Development Party (AK Party), including Deputy Prime Ministers Cemil Çiçek and Bülent Arınç, for a comprehensive discussion of the government's strategy for 2010.

Two recent phenomena -- frequent protests by Kurdish demonstrators who accuse the government of lowering the living conditions of the Kurdistan Workers' Party's (PKK) jailed leader, Abdullah Öcalan, and the closure of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) -- have now worked to dishearten the government but, conversely, have strengthened its determination to pursue its goals concerning the Kurdish initiative. Erdoğan's message was loud and clear when he reiterated the government's position during parliamentary budget deliberations on Monday.

He said the democratization package was a project of national unity and that they would not backpedal on the initiative. “Let me repeat this once again: The status quo cannot remain in place. We can’t send any more youths knowingly to their deaths. We cannot tolerate more families being torn apart. We will not allow terror, supporters of terrorism, bloodsuckers who feed on bloodshed caused by terror and vampires to fulfill their plans,” he said during Monday’s budget talks.

The chairman of the AK Party’s parliamentary group, Suat Kılıç, also told Today’s Zaman the government was more than determined. “We are taking our steps for democratization for the nation, not for the opposition or the terrorist organization [PKK]. The only other party in this process is the nation. Our people want these steps to be taken,” he said.

He said once the deliberations on the budget are over -- which should be by Dec. 24 according to parliamentary bylaws -- the government will start taking steps for democratization. The first move will be to reintroduce a bill that will put an end to the frequent trying of minors as adults under Turkey’s anti-terror laws. This law is referred to as the “law for kids throwing stones” as most of its victims have been youngsters manipulated by adults to throw stones at security forces in PKK demonstrations. Once the bill is passed, courts will not be able to try these young people as adults. The next step is to bring back 5,000 people from the Makhmour camp -- a refugee camp run by the UN in northern Iraq and whose population comprises Turkish Kurds who left their homes due to years of armed violence. After these moves, the government will organize a Roma workshop to address the problems faced by Roma people in Turkey. In addition to this, the government will hold two more Alevi workshops, ending in a total of seven, and prepare a plan to solve the Alevis’ problems.
Makhmour and Kandil

Also in the new year, the government will stage a military operation in northern Iraq to minimize the PKK presence in the region. Interior Minister Beşir Atalay will revisit Baghdad and Arbil at the end of the current month to put into motion once again a tri-party mechanism -- formed by Turkey, Iraq and the US -- established against the PKK. Representatives of these countries and of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq will come together to decide on a roadmap to root out the PKK completely from Iraq. In addition to Atalay, representatives of the General Staff, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the National Police Department will join in these meetings. Details about the evacuation of some refugees in Makhmour will also be taken up. Turkey aims to bring back half of them, while the remaining refugees might be given Iraqi citizenship.

The government’s second step will be to work with Syria against Syrian members of the PKK in northern Iraq. Syria announced earlier that it might declare a general amnesty to bring its citizens back; however, Turkish intelligence sources suggest that PKK militants are not all that keen on returning.

After bringing back residents from Makhmour, Turkey will also try to take action to bring back those in the PKK’s ranks from the terrorist group’s bases in the Kandil Mountains of northern Iraq. According to intelligence unit estimates, 3,500 to 4,000 terrorists are based in Kandil, of whom 1,500 are from Syria. A plan to bring them back home will also be discussed at the meeting.

Turkey’s biggest target in the new period is to capture some of the PKK’s higher-ranking individuals. Most of them are ready to lay down their arms, but they want the US to guarantee their future. However, Turkey wants these people to be turned in to the security forces here. The US had once proposed settling these individuals in third countries, an idea that Turkey rejects. Turkey fears that the organization will always have the ability to resurrect itself unless its leadership is completely eliminated.

Following the bill on the stone-throwers, the government will also change broadcasting legislation to allow private stations to air programs in Kurdish. The Higher Education Council (YÖK) will also speed up its projects to set up Kurdish institutes in academic institutions. In addition, the government has plans to reinstate the Kurdish place names of towns and districts that were changed to Turkish in the Republican era.

The government will in addition change the Law on Political Parties to allow the use of languages other than Turkish at political rallies. A commission to fight discrimination is also to be set up under the Prime Ministry as part of the government’s democratization efforts.

/Todays Zaman/

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