ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish President Abdullah Gul approved a law on Tuesday for peace talks with Kurdish militants in an important step towards ending a three-decade insurgency less than a month before a presidential election.
The bill could be a vote-winner for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who is hoping to attract Kurdish support as he bids to become Turkey’s first directly elected president in a nationwide poll on Aug. 10.
Turkey, a NATO member state, began peace talks with jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan in 2012, in an effort to end a 30-year-old insurgency that has killed 40,000 people.
Until now however there have been few legal provisions for negotiating with Ocalan’s banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) - labeled a terrorist organization by the Turkish authorities, the European Union and the United States.
The new law will shield from prosecution those involved in disarming and reintegrating Kurdish rebels, as well as giving legal protection to meetings aimed at ending the bloodshed.
Pro-Kurdish politicians have long sought such a bill, partly to remove the risk of those involved in the talks being prosecuted if the political climate in Turkey turns against the peace process in future.
Erdogan has invested significant political capital in peace efforts, broadening cultural and language rights for Kurds at the risk of alienating some of his own grassroots support.
Kurds account for around a fifth of Turkey’s population and could boost Erdogan’s presidential chances if he can count on their support, particularly in the event of a second-round run-off, although opinions polls already give him a strong lead.
Reporting by Gulsen Solaker, Writing by Seda Sezer; editing by Ralph Boulton