Kurdish politician urges 'new peace era' in Turkey after jail

Former Pro-Kurdish Mayor Ahmet Turkis pictured on February 5, 2017 in Mardin (AFP Photo/ILYAS AKENGIN)

Mardin (Turkey) (AFP) - A respected pro-Kurdish politician said Sunday after his release following over two months in jail that both Kurds and the Turkish government should embrace a new era of peace to end a decades-long conflict.

Former mayor of the southeastern city of Mardin Ahmet Turk, 74, was held in November on terror charges, but his arrest caused controversy even among political foes who have regarded him as a moderate voice for peace.

Turk, a senior member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), was released from jail in the city of Elazig on health grounds late on Friday and returned to Mardin, where he enjoys immense popularity.

The HDP has been heavily targeted by the crackdown under Turkey's state of emergency with 12 MPs currently under arrest including its co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag.

"One person leaving jail does not solve the problem. Our co-leaders, our mayors, nearly our entire leadership are inside," Turk told reporters in Mardin in his first major comments since leaving jail.

"We hope that there will be new era for a solution for the peaceful normalisation of Turkey," he said, quoted by Dogan news agency.

"There is no alternative other than dialogue. I hope that in the nearest future a joint spirit will arise and finishing with the weapons will be on the agenda."

Tens of thousands have lost their lives since 1984 in the conflict between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which seeks greater rights and autonomy for Turkey's Kurdish minority, and the army.

There has been a new surge in fighting since a ceasefire collapsed in summer 2015, with the government vowing to fight until the PKK is eradicated and the militants refusing to lay down their weapons.

- 'No problem between peoples' -

Turk, who was also jailed in the wake of the 1980 military coup, thanked Turkish politicians from rival parties who had helped him during his incarceration including the former leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP) Deniz Baykal.

"There is no problem between peoples. But incorrect policies have given rise to anger and tension," said Turk.

"Because we know, weapons and conflict are not a solution," he added.

He said Kurds and Turks have a long history of relations, going back to the Ottoman Empire.

"The Kurds are not a danger for Turkey. That needs to be understood and our people need to tell this."

"Everyone needs to breathe. Everyone needs to think again. We also need to own up to our own shortcomings. But the state also needs to show a greater understanding," he said.

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