Gul appeals for calm as anti-Kurd tension rises

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The Independent Online

Turkey has launched scores of attacks on Kurdish guerrilla units in Iraq since 12 of its soldiers were killed in an ambush on Sunday, military sources have confirmed.

The cross-border raids began on Sunday morning, as Turkish F-16 planes bombed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) positions up to 20 miles inside Iraq, and artillery units bombarded mountain passes PKK fighters use to cross from Iraq into Turkey.

Government sources said 300 Turkish commandos had deployed 25 miles inside northern Iraq by helicopter on Sunday for operations lasting 28 hours. Local journalists in the south-eastern Turkish city of Hakkari said there were clashes between Turkish soldiers and PKK fighters yesterday afternoon to the south of Semdinli, near the Iraq border.

Thirty-four PKK fighters have been "neutralised" since Sunday's attack, according to the Turkish military high command.

Residents of the Turkish Kurdish villages close to the fighting have been leaving their homes, according to Turkish media reports. "We heard the shells exploding and the sound of shooting through the night," one shopkeeper said on the phone from Semdinli.

In central Istanbul on Monday, gangs of nationalist youths threw stones at windows in the mainly Kurdish district of Tarlabasi. In the southern town of Osmaniye on Tuesday, a couple armed with a shotgun blocked motorway traffic and told drivers to shout "down with the PKK". They did so, and applauded the couple when police came to arrest them.

But the incident that perhaps best summed up the atmosphere of patriotic fervour was the treatment meted out to Galatasaray football club's German manager Karl Heinz Feldkamp, after he dodged a journalist's question on his reaction to Sunday's attacks.

"Of course they won't answer," said Erhan Toroglu, a Turkish football commentator. "Because they are the ones selling weapons and giving financial support [to the PKK]."

Senior government officials called for calm. "When you are showing your reactions, don't succumb to provocation", said a government spokesman, Cemil Cicek. President Abdullah Gul insisted that "whatever the damage terrorism does, the war on terrorism is the job of the state alone."

A columnist for the Milliyet newspaper, Ece Temelkuran, said that in a country like Turkey, officials are not doing enough to calm nerves. "Anger and hatred are as deep and vigorous today as they have perhaps ever been in Turkey's history," she wrote. "The end of this road could be Bosnia."

Most analysts expect Turkey to carry out pinpoint strikes on PKK positions, and not a full-scale land operation across the border. But when Ertugrul Ozkok wrote a column this week in the Hürriyet newspaper giving "a last warning" to Iraqi Kurdish leaders that "either you will be our neighbour or our target", Turkey's chief of staff, General Yasar Buyukanit told him: "That is the correct diagnosis."

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