Turkey approves court reform, Kurds remain critical
By Daren Butler
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's parliament has passed a law allowing defendants to use Kurdish in court, but Kurdish politicians said it fell short of their demands as the EU candidate country seeks to advance peace talks with the jailed leader of a 28-year-old insurgency.
Kurdish and nationalist deputies clashed verbally and nearly came to blows during a tense debate over the bill late on Thursday seen aimed at breaking a deadlock in trials of hundreds accused of links to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.
Courts have rejected suspects' efforts to use Kurdish in defense against charges of membership of a PKK umbrella group. The law allows defendants to speak in their mother tongue, if they speak it better than they do Turkish.
In an immediate sign of the law's application, a court allowed Batman Mayor Nejdet Atalay to defend himself in Kurdish at his trial in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele welcomed the law.
"This is an important step towards having a broader access to public services in mother tongue. Looking forward to a rapid implementation," he said in comments emailed to Reuters.
The law was among the demands of hundreds of jailed PKK rebels who late last year staged a hunger strike which was ended by the intervention of their leader Abdullah Ocalan, in prison on the island of Imrali, south of Istanbul.
Ocalan's intervention is viewed as having paved the way for peace talks aimed at ending a conflict in which more than 40,000 people have been killed since his rebels took up arms in 1984. Continued...