Kurds take campaign to ballot box

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The Independent Online
"WE JUST want them to give up the idea that this country belongs only to the Turks," said Beli Haydar Gulec, of the People's Democracy Party (Hadep). As the new wave of Kurdish violence engulfing Turkey continues, Hadep is taking the campaign for Kurdish rights to the ballot box.

Tight security is expected tomorrow as Turkey holds elections. Several people have died in bomb attacks across the country since the Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured in February, and Mr Ocalan's Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) has vowed to step up its campaign of terror and warned tourists to stay away.

Six Turkish soldiers and 18 PKK guerrillas were killed in fresh clashes yesterday in the Kurdish dominated south-east.

Hadep says it shares the aims of the PKK but campaigns peacefully. But democracy has its limits in Turkey. Twice, Turkey's chief prosecutor has sought to have the party excluded from polls on the grounds that it was linked to the PKK. While the courts ruled that Hadep could take part, a separate case to have the party closed continues. The banning of a rally for the party in Diyarbakir, the administrative centre of the south-east, led to riots and 300 arrests.

Hadep is unlikely to win any seats in parliament, because parties must win 10 per cent of the national vote to qualify. But it is expected to win key municipalities in the south-east.

Hadep is not the only party stirring up controversy ahead of the polls. Ali Mufit Gurtune, who became mayor of Istanbul when his predecessor was jailed for reading an Islamic poem at a political rally, is trying to win re-election for the Islamist Virtue Party. The Islamists emerged as the largest group in parliament after the last election, but their Welfare Party was forced from government by the military and closed by the courts for endangering Turkey's secular constitution. Now the Islamists are trying to convince the voters and the generals that their new Virtue party is not a threat.

Unofficial opinion polls indicate that support for Virtue may be slipping. The Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit, is riding a wave of popularity after the capture of Mr Ocalan. His leftist party, which now holds only a small number of seats,is expected to win as many votes as Virtue.

But the real problems will start after the voting. With no party likely to win a majority the difficulty will be in forming a coalition. The military makes it clear that it will oppose any coalition including Virtue.

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