Turkish President Abdullah Gul has approved a law to allow peace talks with Kurdish rebels, in an important step towards ending a three-decade conflict, less than a month before the country’s presidential election.
The bill could be a vote-winner for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who is hoping to attract Kurdish support as he bids to become Turkey’s first directly elected president on August 10.
Ankara began peace talks with Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in 2012, in an effort to end a longstanding conflict that has killed 40,000 people.
Until now, however, there have been few legal provisions for negotiating with the PKK – labeled a terrorist organisation by the Turkish authorities, the European Union and the United States.
The new law will shield from prosecution those involved in disarming and reintegrating Kurdish rebels, as well as giving legal protection to meetings aimed at ending the bloodshed.
Pro-Kurdish politicians have long sought such a bill, partly to remove the risk of those involved in the talks being prosecuted if the political climate in Turkey turns against the peace process in future.
Erdogan has invested significant political capital in peace efforts, broadening cultural and language rights for Kurds at the risk of alienating some of his own grassroots support.
Kurds account for about a fifth of Turkey’s population and could boost Erdogan’s presidential chances if he can count on their support, particularly in the event of a second-round run-off, although opinions polls already give him a strong lead.