- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2008

NICOSIA, Cyprus | Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan plunged deeper into the country´s political turmoil last week, clashing with defiant Kurdish nationalists and his European Union critics.

The escalating crisis prompted a warning from President Abdullah Gul that a threatened ban of Mr. Erdogan´s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) could cause lasting damage to the nation of 70 million hoping to join the European Union.

“Political and legal discussions must not be allowed to erode our hard-won stability, prestige and gains … to Turkey´s strategic interests,” he said.

An indictment by Turkey’s Constitutional Court said Mr. Erdogan and his party violated the constitution by accepting pro-Islamic measures.

If guilty, legal sanctions could include a five-year ban on political activities by Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Gul and dozens of leading politicians.

Against such a background, the European Union warned Turkey that its human rights measures were not satisfactory and called for more progress in cultural and linguistic rights of minorities, rights of women and of labor unions.

Mr. Erdogan retorted that the European Union was applying “double standards” in treating Turkey´s membership application and was causing resentment among the population.

The European Union, Mr. Erdogan said, “wants to impose on Turkey things which had not been imposed on any countries which have become members.”

He implied that such treatment was caused by the fact that Turkey was the first majority Muslim applicant country.

Equally difficult was the question of the Kurdish minority and of the 24-year revolt by the leftist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey blames for an estimated 40,000 deaths.

In recent weeks, the government has claimed a number of successful military operations against PKK mountain hide-outs in areas bordering Iraq.

To back the perceived military successes with economic measures, Mr. Erdogan has launched a $14.5 billion development plan intended to transform the poor, predominantly Kurdish areas and thus reduce support for the rebel cause.

When he traveled last week to Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey to explain and promote the plan, Kurdish politicians boycotted the speech, claiming the government´s planned reforms did not go far enough.

“The people here demand recognition of the Kurdish identity. Economic and social plans would not solve the problems of the region,” said Nejdet Atalay of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party.

The project would involve the construction of hydroelectric dams and irrigation sites that would improve farming and create jobs, officials say.

“An environment of welfare and freedom is the enemy of terrorism,” Mr. Erdogan said.

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