Kurds and women top Turkish PM reform plans

Proposed reforms are anticipated as key to the Kurdish peace process and for Erdogan's political prospects.

    Turkish Prime Minister has announced a package of proposals that include lifting of some restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language, as well as further steps to liberalise the wearing of Islamic headscarves.

    Recep Tayyip Erdogan said rules preventing pro-Kurdish and other smaller parties from entering parliament would be changed, while Kurdish-language education would be permitted in private schools.

    Kurdish names can be restored to towns in Turkey and a ban on Kurdish letters will be lifted, he said.

    A ban on women wearing headscarves in public institutions will also be lifted, he said.

    "This is a historic moment, an important stage," Erdogan told a press conference on Monday.

    Turkey aims to reduce the threshhold for a political party to enter parliament from ten to five percent of the national vote, or even eliminate the barrier completely.

    The reform would likely benefit pro-Kurdish political parties, who secure a wide margin of votes in the mainly Kurdish southeast but fail to garner enough support nationwide.

    The reforms are designed to address the grievances of Turkey's minority groups, in particular the Kurds, after a peace process with the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) stalled.

    Ban on headscarfs lifted

    Turkey will also end a ban that bars women from wearing the Islamic-style headscarf in state institutions, part of the government's long-awaited package of proposed human-rights reforms.

    However, the new rules will not apply to the judiciary or the military.

    Muslim but secular Turkey has long had tough restrictions on the garb worn by women working in state offices.

    Erdogan also announced plans to return monastery property belonging to Syriac Christians that was seized by the state.

    The unveiling of planned reforms come after Kurdish rebels threatened several weeks ago to suspend their pullout from Turkey into bases in northern Iraq, because Erdogan's government had not made good on promises to enact reforms to improve Kurdish rights.

    In March the PKK's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan declared a historic ceasefire after months of clandestine negotiations with the Turkish secret service.

    In return for withdrawing its fighters, the PKK demanded amendments to the penal code and electoral laws as well as the right to education in the Kurdish language and a degree of regional autonomy.

    The move raised hopes of an end to a nearly three-decade Kurdish insurgency in Turkey's southeast that has claimed more than 40,000 lives.

    But earlier this month the rebels announced they were suspending withdrawal of their fighters, accusing Ankara of failing to deliver the promised reforms.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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