ANKARA, Aug 11 (Reuters) – Turkey’s main opposition parties have rejected a government request for talks on addressing the Kurdish minority’s long-standing grievances, party leaders said on Tuesday, in an apparent blow to the initiative.
The government wants consensus on how to resolve a festering problem which has fuelled a 25-year-old conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish separatist guerrillas in which 40,000 people have been killed.
Resolving the Kurdish issue, particularly giving greater rights to the ethnic minority, is also closely tied to Turkey’s bid for European Union membership.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan made a fresh appeal to the opposition on Tuesday for cooperation on the issue.
"Don’t close your doors on this project of national unity. Come and let’s make it happen together," he said in a speech to his AK Party deputies in parliament.
Erdogan had said last week that hopes for the initiative were boosted by his talks with Ahmet Turk, who heads the only Kurdish party in parliament, the Democratic Society Party (DTP).
Interior Minister Besir Atalay was due to hold talks with Turk on Thursday. Officials from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) told Reuters they had turned down similar requests for talks.
The party leaders reiterated their position on Tuesday.
"It is is totally clear that Turkey… is being led towards an environment of separation, division and conflict," MHP leader Devlet Bahceli told a news conference.
The far-right MHP is strongly opposed to Kurdish cultural and political reforms, seeing such moves as a threat to the country’s national unity.Â
CHP leader Deniz Baykal said the government needed to give details on the initiative.
"It is not possible to advance this issue with vague words and general policies. They must say exactly what they want," Baykal said in a speech to his party deputies.
Two smaller parties have agreed to talks with the minister.
The Interior Ministry is working on the plan together with military and intelligence authorities, but the government has not yet announced any details.
Erdogan’s government has taken small steps, such as launching a Kurdish television channel, to improve cultural rights for Turkey’s 12 million Kurds, partly in the face of pressure from the EU.
But the DTP, which has strong support among Kurds and faces a court bid to close it for alleged links to the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), seeks more far-reaching political reforms.
The DTP seeks limited autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds in the mainly Kurdish southeast, as well as an amnesty for PKK rebels and constitutional amendments to protect Kurdish rights.
The PKK, which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 to carve out their own ethnic homeland in the southeast of the country, is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.
In recent years they have watered down their demands to seeking autonomy for Kurds in the southeast.
Improving rights for Turkey’s Kurdish minority and ending the armed conflict would significantly boost regional security, bring more investment in the southeast and improve Turkey’s chances of joining the European Union.
Jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, captured in 1999, has said he will announce a ‘road map’ to end the conflict on Aug. 15 — the 25th anniversary of the PKK’s first armed attack.