Tue, Oct 23, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Turkey weighs response to ambush, ceasefire offer


Top Turkish leaders yesterday weighed their response to a deadly ambush and a ceasefire offer by Kurdish separatists as Washington pressed Ankara to refrain from striking rebel bases in northern Iraq.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, under mounting public pressure to order a cross-border strike against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) bases there, convened his weekly Cabinet meeting before leaving for Britain on an official visit.

But at press time, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said that the rebels would announce a ceasefire, his office confirmed.

Talabani said the PKK was to make the offer later yesterday.

Talabani's remarks were made to reporters at the airport in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah before he flew to Baghdad and were confirmed by his office.

Earlier, Turks took to the streets for the second day running, with some 3,000 flag-waving demonstrators in Istanbul shouting anti-PKK slogans and criticizing Erdogan for not taking immediate military action.

Erdogan spoke to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the telephone on Sunday, urging US action against the PKK in northern Iraq, but Washington's response was a request for patience.

Rice asked him for "a few days' time," Erdogan said.

"If a neighboring country is providing a safe haven for terrorism ... we have rights under international law and we will use those rights and we don't have to get permission from anybody," Erdogan said in remarks published yesterday in the Times.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul, meanwhile, met leaders of the major political parties, including the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party.

Tensions on the Iraqi border escalated dramatically on Sunday when PKK militants killed 12 Turkish soldiers in an ambush; 32 separatists were killed in clashes that followed, the military said.

The attack came four days after the Turkish parliament authorized the government to take military action in north Iraq against the PKK.

The rebels yesterday released what they said were names of seven or eight soldiers they claim to have captured during the clashes.

Turkish officials have not confirmed that there were are any captives.

In a statement carried by the Firat news agency, seen in Turkey as a mouthpiece of the PKK, the group also claimed to have killed 35 soldiers without suffering any losses.

After emergency talks on Sunday night, a statement by top civilian and military leaders said Turkey was determined to destroy the PKK's safe haven in Iraq "whatever the price may be."

"Although it respects Iraq's territorial integrity, Turkey will not tolerate that terrorism be aided and abetted and will not be afraid to pay, whatever the price may be, to protect its rights, its indivisible unity," it said.

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