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TURKEY

Protests aim to 'sabotage’ Kurd peace talks, says Erdogan

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) addresses the Turkish Parliament during a debate as the Parliament reconvenes after a summer recess in Ankara on October 1, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ADEM ALTAN
6 min

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said protests across Turkey against his government's inaction over the anti-jihadist fight in Syria were aimed at "sabotaging" the peace process with Kurdish rebels.

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“It’s very obvious that this game is aimed at sabotaging the peaceful environment in the east and southeast as well as the peace process and our brotherhood,” Erdogan said in his first comments on the unrest that has killed at least 27 people this week.

The Turkish government’s perceived failure to intervene in the fight against the jihadist group which calls itself the Islamic State (IS), coupled with Ankara’s policy of blocking Kurdish volunteers from joining the battle to defend the Syrian border town of Kobane, has sparked fury among Turkey's Kurds.

Protesters in several cities in the southeast of the country with large Kurdish populations have clashed with police this week, in the worst outbreak of such violence in years.

The trouble has sparked fears that the standoff over Kobane could endanger talks between the Turkish government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighting an insurgency for self-rule in southeast Turkey.

Erdogan blamed the unrest on the "dark forces" seeking to sabotage the fragile peace process to end the 30 years of violence that has claimed at least 40,000 lives.

Turkish leader at a watershed moment

The Turkish president, who has dominated politics in NATO’s only Muslim-majority country for over a decade, is at watershed moment in his political career.

The international community has voiced concerns over Turkey’s backing of Islamist opposition groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops in Syria. Erdogan’s backing of Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups in Egypt and Libya is also coming under scrutiny in many Western capitals.

At home, the 60-year-old Turkish leader is confronting a critical moment in his gamble to resolve the country’s bitter, decades-long Kurdish crisis.

Amid mounting Kurdish anger over Turkey’s inaction in Syria, Ankara has been calling for a buffer zone to protect its border and provide some protection for fleeing Kurds.

While some European leaders, including French President François Hollande, have supported the idea of a buffer zone, the US is not considering that option since it would be costly and complex to enforce. Russia has stated that a buffer zone would require a UN vote, which would entail a lengthy process.

Reporting from Ankara, FRANCE 24’s Jasper Mortimer explained that Turkish public opinion on the issue of intervention in Syria can be broadly split into two categories. “One is the active minority represented by the protesters and the other is the silent majority who are not taking part in the protests, but who would probably support the government were it to have a limited operation in northern Syria to create a safe haven, under a no-fly zone, for Syria’s refugees to return. They wouldn’t support Turkey getting involved in the Syrian civil war. However the agenda in Turkey today is being set by the outcry over Kobane.”

US jets pound IS positions in Kobane

The battle for Kobane has put the international spotlight on Turkey, with the US urging Ankara on Thursday to join the anti-IS fight.

Two top US envoys -- retired general John Allen and US pointman on Iraq, Brett McGurk, -- met Thursday in Ankara with Turkish leaders seeking to win their NATO ally's support to defeat the Islamic State (IS) group, which has seized a swath of territory in Iraq and Syria.

US-led aircraft have been pounding IS militants in and around Kobane as officials said the jihadists' bid to seize the Syrian border town had exposed them to warplanes overhead.

The US military's Central Command reported 14 strikes near Kobane on Thursday.

Washington also announced that a joint US-Turkish military team will meet next week in Ankara to discuss the fight against the Islamist militants.

"There is no question that Turkey is well-positioned to contribute," in areas including military cooperation, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, while stressing "it's not a situation where we are making demands".

But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said Ankara could not be expected to act alone.

“It's not realistic to expect that Turkey will lead a ground operation on its own," said Cavusoglu, following a meeting with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in Ankara on Thursday.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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