Turkey: PKK Denies Role in Istanbul Attack

“On a day when our movement was preparing an historic step to extend our ceasefire decision for peace and a democratic solution, it is impossible for us to have conducted this kind of an action,” the statement said.

The statement also set out five demands Turkey’s government should fulfill in order to stop the conflict: end military operations against the PKK; release arrested Kurdish politicians; open the way for Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK leader jailed on an island outside Istanbul, to take part in peace negotiations; establish constitutional and truth commissions; and lower the threshold for political parties to enter parliament from the current 10% of votes cast…

A group representing the Kurdish Workers Party denies responsibility for a weekend suicide-bomb attack in central Istanbul that wounded 32 people, and said it was extending a unilateral cease-fire until the middle of next year.

Turkish media have fingered the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, as a prime suspect for Sunday’s bombing, in which the suspected suicide attacker tried to board a police bus in Istanbul’s busy Taksim Square and blew himself up next to it when he failed. Fifteen of the wounded were policemen.

But on Monday, the Union of Communities in Kurdistan, a group that shares a common leader with the PKK and often speaks on its behalf, sought to distance itself from the attack, which took place earlier on the day the PKK’s four-month unilateral cease-fire had been due to expire.

“On a day when our movement was preparing an historic step to extend our ceasefire decision for peace and a democratic solution, it is impossible for us to have conducted this kind of an action,” the statement said. The PKK in recent years has backed away from demanding a separate Kurdish state, focusing instead of obtaining political autonomy and language rights for Turkey’s ethnic Kurds. Turkey, the United States and the European Union list the PKK as a terrorist organization.

Turkey’s state newswire, Anadolu Ajansi, said Monday that police had determined Sunday’s bomb was made from a plastic explosive of Austrian origin that in the past has been used by two radical leftist terror groups in Turkey, as well as by the PKK. Interior Minister Besir Atalay told reporters while visiting the wounded in the hospital that it was too early to draw conclusions about who carried out the bombing.

The statement from the Union of Communities in Kurdistan accused Turkey’s government of failing to endorse a democratic solution that would satisfy the country’s large ethnic Kurdish minority and end the conflict with the PKK. But it said “the movement” would extend its cease-fire until Turkey’s elections, set for June next year.

The statement also set out five demands Turkey’s government should fulfill in order to stop the conflict: end military operations against the PKK; release arrested Kurdish politicians; open the way for Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK leader jailed on an island outside Istanbul, to take part in peace negotiations; establish constitutional and truth commissions; and lower the threshold for political parties to enter parliament from the current 10% of votes cast.

So far, the government has shown little sign of meeting those demands. The trial of 151 members of the Union of Communities of Kurdistan, including 12 town mayors and several politicians, arrested on suspicion of working with the PKK among other charges began two weeks ago. The government has been rounding up members of the group since 2009, fearful that it was attempting to set up a parallel state within Turkey. On Monday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated his government’s complaint that some European countries aid the PKK by giving them safe harbor.

“Despite all our warnings and demands, and the documents we have issued, some countries continue supporting terror directly or indirectly”, he said, speaking to an international audience in Istanbul.

The PKK has been waging a war in Turkey since 1984, with an estimated 40,000 people dying as a result of the conflict on both sides. Up to one-fifth of Turkey’s population are ethnic Kurds, with the majority concentrated along the country’s eastern borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran.

Marc Champion and Ayla Albayrak

The Wall Street Journal

November 1, 2010

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