Turkey frees Kurdish ex-mayors, peace process edges forward

Tue Feb 19, 2013 6:47am EST
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By Seyhmus Cakan

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Ten Kurdish defendants, including six former mayors, were released from jail on Tuesday in a trial of 175 people accused of links to militants, a further small step in Turkey's efforts to end a Kurdish insurgency.

After more than three years in prison the defendants hugged family members as they emerged from the prison gates at dawn in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the mainly Kurdish southeast, and were greeted by the city's mayor.

Their release coincided with fledgling peace talks between Turkey and the jailed leader of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, aimed at ending a 28-year-old conflict which has killed more than 40,000 people.

"We will move hand-in-hand and shoulder-to-shoulder to advance this developing process and, with this responsibility, get on with our lives," Firat Anli, former mayor of the Diyarbakir district of Yenisehir, told reporters after his release.

Those released, after a marathon 18-hour court session, are among 175 people accused of involvement in the PKK-linked political umbrella group KCK at the trial in Diyarbakir. Thousands have been detained over links to the KCK.

The court did not give an immediate reason for the release of the defendants, although their lawyers had rejected the charges against them. It can often take weeks for courts to announce reasons behind decisions.

"We are experiencing joy today, but thousands of our friends continue to be held," said Diyarbakir Mayor Osman Baydemir.

"God willing, soon our friends will be freed and reunited with their families, unlawfulness will give way to rule of law and conflict will give way to an honorable and lasting peace."   Continued...

Syrian Kurds demonstrators hold a giant portrait of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan during a protest in Derik, Hasakah November 1, 2012. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani