Turkey government party sees progress in Kurd rebel talks

ANKARA Fri Jan 4, 2013 1:13pm GMT

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ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish officials have made "important progress" in talks with jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan to try to end an insurgency by his fiercely loyal supporters, a senior ruling party official said on Friday.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's chief adviser said on Monday that Turkey had begun discussing disarmament with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, and on Thursday two Kurdish lawmakers paid a rare visit to Ocalan on his island prison.

"Talks have reached a certain stage, some important progress has been made and some results have been achieved, or will be achieved," Nurettin Canikli, deputy chairman of the ruling AK Party's parliamentary group, told reporters in Ankara.

"The aim is to end terrorism, all efforts are being made for this," he said.

Talks with the PKK, which is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, would have been unpalatable to Turkish public opinion only a few years ago.

Ocalan, who founded the organisation in 1974 to fight for an independent Kurdish state, is widely reviled by Turks who hold him responsible for the deaths of more than 40,000 people since the PKK took up arms in 1984.

But Erdogan is under pressure to stem the violence, which has included bomb attacks in major cities as well as fighting in the mountainous southeast, particularly with presidential elections next year in which he is expected to stand.

His government has widened cultural and language rights for Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of Turkey's 75 million people, since taking power 10 years ago. But Kurdish politicians want more reforms including steps towards autonomy.

(Writing by Nick Tattersall and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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