Turkey Kurds: PKK chief Ocalan calls for ceasefire
Kurdish people celebrate New Year on March 21, 2013, in Diyarbakir Tens of thousands heard the message in Diyarbakir
The jailed leader of Kurdish rebels fighting Turkey, Abdullah Ocalan, has called for a truce after years of war.
Ocalan also urged his fighters to withdraw from Turkey, in a message read out to cheers during Kurdish New Year celebrations in the city of Diyarbakir.
The truce call follows months of peace talks between his PKK forces and the Turkish state.
More than 40,000 people have died in the 30-year fight for an ethnic Kurdish homeland in Turkey’s south-east.
Several previous ceasefire attempts have failed.
image of James Reynolds James Reynolds BBC News, Istanbul
The PKK has announced ceasefires before. Each has failed. But this time, there is a sense of optimism among many in Turkey.
Grounds for hope are based on one simple premise: the interests of the two most powerful men in Turkey – Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan – now coincide.
The Turkish parliament is currently discussing a new constitution. Both Mr Erdogan and Ocalan seek to re-negotiate the foundation of the secular state drawn up by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s.
Mr Erdogan wants to keep the armed forces out of politics and make room for the public practice of Islam. Ocalan wants formal rights for the Kurdish people within Turkey. Neither appears to object to the other’s ambition. A Turkey-PKK ceasefire helps to strengthen each leader in his respective efforts to redraw the underpinnings of the state.
But the BBC’s James Reynolds in Istanbul points out that this time Ocalan and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan – the two key figures involved – are talking via intermediaries.
Our correspondent says it is clear Ocalan is still the final decision-maker among the Kurds, despite the 14 years he has spent serving a life sentence for treason.
The PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) leader has been in Turkish custody since his capture in Kenya in 1999.
Tens of thousands of people gathered to hear Ocalan’s announcement in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir. It was read out to the crowd by two MPs in Kurdish and Turkish.
“We have reached the point where weapons should be silent and ideas and politics should speak. A new phase in our struggle is beginning,” Ocalan’s message said.
“Now a door is opening to a phase where we are moving from armed resistance to an era of democratic political struggle.
“Now it is time for our armed units to move across the border [to northern Iraq]. This is not an end but a new beginning. This is not abandoning the struggle, but a start to a different struggle.”
Ocalan had told Kurdish politicians who visited him earlier this week at his prison on the island of Imrali that his declaration would be “historic”.
Masked demonstrators display a picture of jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan and PKK flags during a peace day rally in Istanbul Ocalan has been in jail since 1999
In February the PKK leader called for prisoners to be released by both sides.
The PKK freed eight Turkish soldiers and officials it had held captive in northern Iraq for up to two years.
The PKK launched its armed campaign in 1984 and is regarded by Turkey, the US and EU as a terrorist organisation. Last year saw some of the heaviest fighting in decades.
The organisation rolled back on its demands for an independent Kurdish state in the 1990s, calling instead for more autonomy.
Reports say the PKK wish list now includes greater constitutional and linguistic rights for Kurds, as well as an easing of pressure on Kurdish activists.
The government has also not dismissed speculation that Ocalan could be moved to house arrest, our correspondent reports.
The PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984, demanding greater autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds, who are thought to comprise up to 20% of the population
Since then, some 40,000 people have died in the conflict
It is regarded by Turkey, the US and European Union as a terrorist organisation, because of its attacks on Turkish security forces and civilians
On the eve of the truce call, Mr Erdogan condemned a number of blasts in the capital blamed on a left-wing group which opposes the talks with the PKK. He promised to push ahead with “extremely critical and sensitive” peace efforts, which have been going on since October.
Abdullah Demirbas, a district mayor in Diyarbakir, told Reuters news agency there would be more attempts to sabotage talks, but this was a last chance for peace.
“The PKK, Ocalan and the government must be brave… There is massive social support for this process.”
In Diyarbakir members of the crowd spoke of their hopes for an end to conflict.
“I have a son in the mountains and one in the army. It has got to stop,” one elderly farmer told AFP news agency.
“We are waiting for peace, for better days. We don’t want clashes any more,” a woman told Reuters.