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Turkey Outlines Rights Reforms Plan

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the media in Ankara on September 30.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has outlined a long-awaited package of proposed human rights reforms.

Erdogan announced the government's so-called "democratic package" at a press conference in Ankara on September 30, saying, "This is a historic moment, an important stage."

Some of the proposals are aimed at improving the rights of Kurds and other minorities in the country.

Erdogan said the proposed reforms will allow for instruction in languages other than Turkish in nonstate schools.

Turkey may also reduce the threshold for a political party to enter parliament -- or even eliminate the barrier completely.

"We can continue with a national threshold of 10 percent. We can reduce the threshold to 5 percent and implement a narrowed regional electoral system in five groups," Erdogan said. "And, as a third option, we can remove the national threshold and implement a narrow regional electoral system."

He said towns will be allowed to take Kurdish rather than Turkish names, and that a ban on three Kurdish letters will be lifted.

'Prospect For Progress'

The co-chairwoman of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Gultan Kisana, told a news conference that the proposed reforms did not go far enough to advance the peace process.

In Brussels, a spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said Ankara's reforms package held the "prospect for progress on many important issues."

Peter Stano said the European Council will "closely follow up the implementation of course and the translation of the proposals into real life, into legislation, and into practical actions."

Parliament is to discuss the proposed reforms after it returns from its summer recess on October 1.

The reforms are seen as a key step in the Kurdish peace process. The three-decade-old conflict between the government and Kurdish rebels has cost more than 40,000 lives. Kurds are said to make up some 20 percent of Turkey's population.

Earlier this month, the rebels announced that they were suspending their pullout into bases in northern Iraq, accusing the Turkish government of not making good on promises to enact reforms to improve Kurdish rights. There has been no reaction yet to Erdogan's latest announcement.

The package is also seen as crucial for Erdogan's political prospects as he faces local, general, and presidential elections in the next two years.

Erdogan said Turkey also planned to end a ban that bars women from wearing the Islamic-style head scarf in state institutions, a long-standing goal of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

"We are going to amend the regulation on employees' appearance in state offices, and we are lifting the ban that bars women wearing the head scarf," Erdogan said.

"The regulation includes restrictions on women's and men's appearances. This is a violation and discrimination against the freedom of religion and consciousness."

The new rules, however, will not apply to the judiciary or the military.

Muslim but secular Turkey has long had tough restrictions on garments worn by women working in state offices.

Erdogan also announced plans to return monastery property belonging to Syriac Christians that was seized by the state.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP
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