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100,000 expected to honour murdered Kurds

Rally for women shot in Paris but Turkey fears radicals' trouble.

ISTANBUL // Up to 100,000 Kurds are expected to rally today to honour the three activists killed in Paris but the Turkish government is concerned the event may turn into a show of strength by radicals bent on derailing peace talks.

The three women, Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Soylemez, were shot dead by unknown attackers on January 9 and were close to the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has accused Ankara of being behind the killings.

The PKK has fought a war against the Turkish government for nearly three decades but negotiations are under way to try to end the conflict.

"There is an intention to put dynamite to this peace process that we have started," the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told legislators of his ruling Justice and Development Party.

The prime minister said he hoped the rally in Diyarbakir, the biggest city in Turkey's Kurdish region in south-east Anatolia, and funerals would pass off without any "provocations".

Duran Kalkan, a PKK commander seen as a hardliner, said the Paris killings served as a warning to Kurds of what to expect from Turkey if the rebels laid down their arms, which is the government's main aim in current peace talks.

The killings were "part of a planned destruction and liquidation attack" against Kurds, Kalkan said this week, according to the ANF news agency, a PKK mouthpiece.

Ankara has rejected the accusation and said the killings appeared to have been part of a bloody feud within the PKK.

Ahmet Turk, a prominent Kurdish politician involved in the peace talks, said Iran may have been behind the killings, the Haberturk newspaper reported yesterday.

The bodies of the women were to arrive in Turkey last night. They will be buried in their respective hometowns tomorrow.

A spokeswoman in Diyarbakir for the Party for Peace and Democracy (BDP), Turkey's biggest Kurdish party, said her organisation expected about 100,000 people at the rally scheduled at noon today.

The rally comes at a critical time for both sides.

Last month, the government started peace talks with the jailed PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, and the talks are expected to continue this month.

In a sign of goodwill, Turkish authorities last week installed a television in Ocalan's cell for the first time since the PKK leader was brought to the prison island of Imrali near Istanbul almost 14 years ago.

Before, he was only allowed to listen to radio programmes from the Turkish state broadcaster TRT.

Mr Erdogan and Kurdish politicians say they are determined to push ahead with the negotiations despite the Paris killings. But Mr Erdogan also warned that the Diyarbakir rally could be exploited by radical Kurds opposed to a peace deal.

Sirri Sakik, a prominent BDP legislator, said this week that "dark forces" were out to undermine the peace process.

Pointing to the process for ending armed conflict in Northern Ireland, Mr Sakik said that both sides should not let themselves be discouraged by efforts to derail peace talks.

"We must not be afraid," he said.

Meanwhile, military sources said yesterday that Turkish jets had struck more than 50 PKK targets in northern Iraq late on Tuesday.

tseibert@thenational.ae

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