AL-JAZEERA, HURRIYET, TODAYS ZAMAN (Turkey)
ISTANBUL - Jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Öcalan has called upon the armed PKK forces to recognize a ceasefire and withdraw from Turkey, reports Hürriyet.
In what may turn out to be a historic announcement in the nearly three-decade-long conflict between Kurdish separatists and the Turkish government, Ocalan's written statement was read out loud to a massive crowd celebrating the Kurdish New Year in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir.
Öcalan, who is serving a life sentence in an island prison off of Istanbul, had the statement read by two members of the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in both Turkish and Kurdish:
"Today we are waking up to a new Middle East, a new Turkey. A new era starts today. A door has been opened from armed struggle to democratic struggle," he said. "Our fight has been against all kinds of pressure, violence, and oppression. A door is opening on democratic process after a period of armed struggle. Guns should fall silent and politics should come to the foreground.”
Al Jazeera reports that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Öcalan both appear to have staked their political futures on the renewed push to end the Kurdish 29-year armed campaign for self-rule that has left some 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, dead.
The expected cease-fire is likely to be in return for wider constitutional recognition and language rights for Turkey's 15 million Kurds. The war has drained state coffers, stunted development of the mainly Kurdish Southeast and scarred Ankara's human rights record.
Istanbul daily Todays Zaman writes that this move would be a major boost to Turkey's candidacy for European Union membership. A settlement would also bolster the NATO member's credibility as it seeks to further extend its influence across the Middle East.