Turkish parliament gives legal recognition to Kurdish peace talks

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan greets members of parliament from his ruling AK Party, as he arrives for a meeting at parliament in Ankara
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan greets members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP), as he arrives for a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara July 8, 2014. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's parliament approved a legal framework on Thursday for peace talks with Kurdish militants in an important step towards ending a three-decade insurgency a few weeks before a presidential election.

The bill could prove a boost for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who is hoping to pick up Kurdish votes in his quest to become Turkey's first directly-elected president when the nation goes to the polls on Aug. 10.

Turkey, a NATO member state, began peace talks with jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan in 2012, in an effort to end a 30-year-old insurgency which has killed 40,000 people.

Until now however there have been few legal provisions for negotiating with Ocalan's banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) - labeled a terrorist organization by the Turkish authorities, European Union and United States.

The new law will shield from prosecution those involved in disarming and reintegrating Kurdish rebels, as well as giving legal protection to meetings aimed at ending the bloodshed.

Pro-Kurdish politicians have long sought such a bill, partly to remove the risk of those involved in the talks being prosecuted if the political climate in Turkey turns against the peace process in the future.

The PKK took up arms in 1984 with the aim of carving out a separate state in the southeast for Turkey's Kurds. They subsequently moderated their demands, seeking increased political and cultural rights which were long denied.

(Reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Nick Tattersall/Mark Heinrich)