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Turkey President Hints at Renewed Talks with Kurds Ahead of Vote

(Bloomberg) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted at being ready for a possible reconciliation with the country’s Kurdish minority before this week’s local elections.

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“We would sit down and talk with anyone who distances themselves from terrorism,” Erdogan said in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the Kurdish-dominated southeast.

Erdogan and his allies have repeatedly accused the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party, or DEM, of having ties to the separatist PKK, which is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, US and the European Union. The party says it’s not influenced by the PKK. Now, Erdogan’s indirect appeal for talks coincides with his need for Kurdish votes ahead of Sunday’s local elections and a possible constitutional change afterward.

The president aims to reclaim major cities, especially Istanbul, from opposition parties. With polls in numerous cities indicating a tight race between Erdogan’s party and its rivals, he needs support from Kurds.

Kurdish voters, making up about 10% of Istanbul’s electorate, supported CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu in 2019. This time DEM has fielded its own candidates, though they’ve chosen low-profile ones, increasing the odds for Imamoglu.

Meanwhile, DEM recently called on the government to revive peace talks and ease restrictions on visits to PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has been incarcerated on a prison island south of Istanbul.

Erdogan has been cracking down on the main pro-Kurdish party since it briefly denied his party a parliamentary majority in elections in 2015, as a surge of violence with the autonomy-seeking Kurdish militants collapsed peace talks. He hinted at the revival of talks to try to end the bloody conflict which has claimed thousands of lives and cost more than $400 billion since the PKK took up arms for autonomy in 1984.

“If something needs to be done for the peace of 85 million people, it should be done now. We can’t tolerate this for another 40 years,” Erdogan said during a rally in Diyarbakir. “Of course, we are ready to talk about everything with everyone, but our door is closed to terrorists and those who play politics under the control of the terrorist organization.” He also vowed to expand cross-border military operations against the PKK in Iraq and Syria.

The immediate question for Kurdish politicians after the vote is whether the government, which removed about 60 elected Kurdish mayors on separatism charges after the previous local elections five years ago, will maintain its policy.

“We want the government to respect elected mayors and choose the policy of peace and dialogue over military operations which only lead to great suffering as well as economic loss,” Tayip Temel, co-chairman of DEM, said on Wednesday. “The start of meetings with Ocalan could help to rebuild confidence with the Kurds.”

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