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Kurdish Mayors Resume Posts

February 29, 2000

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (AP) _ The mayors of three cities in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast returned to their posts Tuesday, one day after they were released from prison pending trial on charges of links with Kurdish rebels.

Hundreds of supporters accompanied Feridun Celik, the mayor of Diyarbakir, to his office in the center of the city. Diyarbakir is the largest city in the southeast.

``This was a test and democracy is the winner,″ Celik told reporters outside of his office.

Celik and the mayors of the southeastern cities of Bingol and Siirt were arrested last week after they met with European officials to discuss cultural rights for Kurds. Informants reportedly told police that the mayors had given money and municipal jobs to Kurdish guerrillas and their relatives. The mayors have denied the charges.

Turkey’s approximately 12 million Kurds are not recognized as an official minority. Turkey bans education and broadcasting in Kurdish.

The three mayors belong to the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party or HADEP, which demands cultural rights for Kurds.

The arrests had strained Turkey’s relations with the European Union, which is pressing Ankara to improve its human rights record.

HADEP is facing closure on charges of being a front for rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, which has fought a 15-year war with Turkish forces for Kurdish autonomy. Some 37,000 people, mostly Kurds, have been killed in the fighting.

The PKK announced a cease-fire last year and said it wants to negotiate peace with Turkey. Turkey refuses to talk with the rebels.

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