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Turkey's Erdogan says Kurds have not withdrawn as agreed

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses the media before leaving for Turkmenistan at Esenboga Airport in Ankara Augu
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses the media before leaving for Turkmenistan at Esenboga Airport in Ankara Augu

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has failed to withdraw its fighters from Turkey as agreed, a condition for Kurdish rights to be expanded as part of a peace process.

Erdogan did not say what this meant for the process, seen by many as the best chance yet to end a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people, mainly Kurds, since 1984, but indicated that a Kurdish rights package would be unveiled soon.

"The promises made by the PKK to withdraw from Turkish soil have not been fulfilled," the newspaper Vatan quoted him as saying on his way back from Turkmenistan late on Friday.

"Only 20 percent have left Turkey, and they are mostly women and children."

The PKK feared its fighters, estimated at around 2,000, would be attacked as they withdrew to bases in the northern Iraqi mountains, but so far a ceasefire declared in March has largely held. The PKK has not said how many of its fighters have left, but says clashes could resume if Ankara does not take concrete steps by the start of September.

Erdogan said on August 8 that parliament may cut short its summer recess, due to end on October 1, to pass the "democratization package".

A senior Justice Ministry official told Reuters last week that the package would include provisions for wider Kurdish-language education.

But Erdogan, under pressure from nationalists for offering concessions to militants officially deemed terrorists, denied this, and said the measures would not "disturb the Turkish public", Vatan reported.

He also ruled out any general amnesty for PKK fighters, who have been promised safe passage out of Turkey, but not rehabilitation.

In addition to more Kurdish-language education, the Kurds, who dominate Turkey's southeast and account for about a fifth of the population, want anti-terrorism laws softened, the electoral threshold to enter parliament lowered from 10 percent, and more powers for local governments.

Erdogan said he had completed his work on the reform package and that details would be announced in the coming days, Vatan reported.

Erdogan has invested much political capital in the process, which has enjoyed strong public support but is increasingly attracting fierce nationalist criticism.

Turkey, the United States and European Union all designate the PKK as a terrorist organization. It took up arms to carve out an independent homeland in the southeast but later scaled back its demands to greater cultural rights and autonomy.

(Reporting by Seda Sezer; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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