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    Hope in Iraq-Turkey relations up, dimming at home amid tension

    HotNewsTurkey Staff
    22.10.2008 - 11:59 | Son Güncelleme:

    The region around the Iraqi-Turkey border becomes a dizzying dichotomy of political fortune as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government finds encouraging signs of progress in northern Iraq but is confronted by disturbing unrest among its own citizens.

    Turkey is receiving encouraging signals from the Kurdish regional administration in northern Iraq, which might lead to full fledged cooperation in the fight against the terror organization, PKK.  

    Across the border, however, it finds itself back-footed on the domestic front, with deadly street protests in the east and aggressive attacks from the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) taking their political toll.

    Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, speaking to private NTV news channel on Tuesday, said the government was in the process of intensifying contact with the northern Iraqi Kurdish administration, but added the contacts – face-to-face and telephone conversations – would be conducted in a low-key manner.

    The Turkish efforts to establish a dialogue with the Iraqi Kurdish administration drew a positive response from the United States, with Dan Fried, assistant secretary of the U.S. State Department.

    "Whatever is needed to bring Turkey, the central Iraqi and northern Iraqi administration closer (in its fight against the PKK) is a good thing," Fried was quoted by the Turkish Daily News (TDN) as saying.

    The intensified diplomatic efforts come at a time when the government is on the defensive, with opposition parties, and especially the DTP, aggressively attacking its policies.

    Tensions remain high in southeastern Anatolia after the reopening of shops and the end of clashes between protesters and police in 11 eastern and southeastern cities, reminiscent of protests in the 1990s.

    Only a day after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was greeted with street demonstrations and closed shops in protest to his visit, the leader of the DTP, Ahmet Turk, took the opportunity to slam him, arguing that the Kurdish issue was being ignored.

    "The reason why there are security problems [in the east] is because the Kurdish issue is addressed not as a political problem, but as one of security," Turk said.

    "Tensions rose immediately after the general elections in July, when the AKP scored successful election results from the region," the president of the Southeast Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, Sah Ismail Bedirhanoglu told TDN. He estimated the tensions would continue until the local elections, which will be held in March 2009.

    Some prominent businessmen in Diyarbakir said tension on the streets had been rising for some time and that the shops being closed did not mean all local shopkeepers were pro-PKK.

    Almost all shops were reopened on Tuesday. NGO representatives disagreed on the motives behind shopkeepers closing their doors.

    "Not all shopkeepers closed their shops voluntarily. The price of not closing is high," Diyarbakir Crafts and Artisan' Chamber President Alican Ebedinoglu said, noting, without citing any names, the influence of threats issued by the PKK in the region, the TDN reported. He also recalled the upheaval in Diyarbakir in 2006.

    Diyarbakir city center was the scene of bitter conflict between protests from several groups numbering tens or hundreds and police in March 2006, on the day of a funeral for four terrorists killed in a Turkish military operation. Protesters hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces and police panzers. The PKK affiliated Roj TV had called for the closure of shops, and protesters damaged some 150 open shops.

    President of the Diyarbakır Coordination of Turkish Union of Chambers of Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) Semih Oktay, however, denied there were any threats issued. "Word of mouth spread, people were notified of shop closures arranged to kick off on the day of the PM's visit. There were not any threats," Oktay said.

    A state of emergency in the '90s gave extraordinary powers to military commanders in the southeast region. It was lifted in 2002.



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