Diyarbakir: Turkey's Prime Minister on Wednesday pledged more investment for the country's restive Kurds but stopped short of any commitment sought by Kurdish leaders for a political solution to bloody conflict.
Some 5,000 police, among them snipers positioned on rooftops, were on duty in Diyarbakir, the largest city of the Kurdish-majority southeast, as Recep Tayyip Erdogan held his main rally in the region ahead of general elections on June 12.
"The policies of rejection and assimilation are now over... We have largely resolved the (Kurdish) problem... We have prepared the ground for the settlement process," Erdogan told the cheering crowd.
Erdogan repeated pledges to rewrite Turkey's Constitution, the legacy of a 1980 military coup, without saying what specific reforms his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), the election front-runner, would seek.
Tensions have mounted ahead of the polls amid a renewed military onslaught on the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and deadly PKK attacks on police despite a truce the rebels declared last year.
A small homemade bomb designed to make loud noise rather than kill exploded near the meeting venue ahead of Erdogan's arrival, but no one was hurt, Anatolia news agency reported.
Police used tear gas to chase away small groups of stone-throwing protesters who chanted slogans praising Kurdish separatism, with some hurling also several petrol bombs and firecrackers in the streets, reporters said.
Drawing on cultural reforms, improved services and a sentiment of Muslim fraternity, the AKP has enjoyed solid popularity in the southeast and has more than 60 Kurdish lawmakers in the outgoing Parliament.
Erdogan promised fresh infrastructure projects for the impoverished region, where a PKK-led insurgency has claimed some 45,000 lives since 1984.
The government plans to renovate Diyarbakir's historic walled city, build a new airport, a dam, a stadium, more hospitals and highways as well as recreation facilities on the banks of the Tigris river in the city outskirts, he said.
Erdogan punctuated his speech with messages of shared Islamic heritage and fired broadside at Turkey's main Kurdish political movement, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), his primary election rival in the region.
"What's the use of voting for them? Nothing... Taking strength from the PKK, the BDP wants to divide us... They are bandits and terrorists," he said.
Ankara accuses the BDP of collaborating with the PKK, which Ankara lists as a terrorist group, and orchestrating violent protests, in which Kurdish youth routinely pelt police with petrol bombs and vandalise public property.
A series of EU-inspired reforms have notably broadened Kurdish cultural freedoms in recent years: the state broadcaster now has a Kurdish-language television channel, the Kurds can teach their tongue in private courses and use it in political life.
Ankara however has failed to meet Kurdish demands for broader political freedoms and to cajole the PKK into laying down arms.
Kurdish frustration has grown over a massive probe into a purported urban extension of the PKK, which has landed hundreds of Kurds, among them mayors and prominent activists, in jail.
The BDP is calling for Kurdish autonomy, complete with Kurdish-language education in public schools, and the PKK appears bent on pressing the demand with arms.
Jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who retains his influence despite behind bars since 1999, has warned that "all hell will break loose" unless sporadic contacts officials had had with him in prison are upgraded to full-fledged negotiations for a solution.
First Published: Thursday, June 02, 2011, 12:19