Last month, Turkey carried out an eight-day incursion across the border into northern Iraq targeting the PKK, which has been fighting the state since 1984.
 
The operation ended on February 29, but the military did not rule out future operations.

The army has more than 200,000 soldiers and 55,000 pro-government village guards fighting an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 PKK fighters.

Kurdish concerns

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, plans to travel this weekend to the country's poor southeast region, in an apparent effort to address the concerns of the mostly Kurdish population.

Erdogan has said that security measures alone cannot end the conflict with the PKK in the southeast. He says that economic support as well as cultural rights for the Kurds must be part of any solution.

The military is against most concessions to the Kurdish rebels, who are demanding autonomy and greater freedom to use the Kurdish language.

However, General Ilker Basbug, commander of Turkey's land forces, urged the government last week to try to discourage Kurds from fighting by improving the economy and offering leniency to those willing to lay down their arms.

Erdogan's visit comes ahead of a traditional spring festival, Nowruz, celebrated on March 21.

Anti-government sentiment

The event is often used to assert anti-government sentiment with PKK flags being raised and images of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed PKK leader, being displayed in violation of Turkish law.

The pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, which is facing closure because of charges of ties to the PKK, plans to hold celebrations with Kurdish cultural symbols this year.

Party officials privately say pro-Kurdish politicians could wear the Kurdish baggy pants and other traditional dress, and address crowds in Kurdish.

Police have cancelled leave around the country during the festival in anticipation of possible violence.

Abdullah Gul, Turkey's president, said on Wednesday that the conflict with the Kurds was a national problem and warned the pro-Kurdish party against aggravating it.

"No one should add problems to the problem. No one should be counterproductive," he said.