Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has not fulfilled its promises concerning withdrawing its members from Turkish soil, noting that the number of PKK terrorists leaving the country is very low.
“The promises given concerning withdrawal from Turkey have not been kept. Around 20 percent, most of whom are women, children and the elderly, have left the country. Except for them, withdrawal is not in question,” Erdoğan said.
The prime minister's statements came as he was returning from a visit to Turkmenistan on Friday.
Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government has been sponsoring talks with the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, since last year in a bid to resolve the country's long-standing terrorism problem. As part of the talks known as the settlement process, Öcalan made a call on the PKK to leave Turkish soil in March. The PKK announced that it began to withdraw its militants from the country on May 8. Yet, there are conflicting figures about how many PKK terrorists have left Turkey.
When asked about the threatening remarks from some PKK leaders, who warn that the ongoing settlement process might be irrevocably damaged and that the PKK might resort to violence again if the government does not take certain steps, Erdoğan said: “They [the PKK] have not already laid down weapons. They reveal their stance by such remarks. To those who threaten to attack, the security forces of this country will surely not say, ‘Welcome.' They will take the necessary action.”
The prime minister also criticized the Turkish media for giving extensive coverage to the remarks of PKK leaders, saying that this does not benefit the country as the PKK leaders present the terrorist organization as the way for the salvation of the country.
A democratization package on which the government is working aiming to expand the rights of Kurds and other groups in the society was among the issues Erdoğan touched upon.
The prime minister said he has completed his work on the package and it is now being revised by AK Party officials and will be made public in the coming days.
To a question about whether the package will include any article that brings changes to Turkey's 10 percent election threshold or election system, he said his government is against reducing the election threshold because they believe coalition governments bring nothing but instability to Turkey.
“Why should we place our country in a difficult position again? What will happen if we reduce the election threshold by two points? Will any party other than the current four enter Parliament?” he asked.
There are currently four political parties in Parliament. While the AK Party is against reducing the election threshold, opposition parties want it to be reduced.
Going back to the content of the democratization package, Erdoğan said the package does not make education in mother tongue possible, a demand that has been voiced by the country's Kurds for a long time.
“Education in mother tongue will not be possible at private schools, either. That issue is not one that we can deal with now… Nobody knows what pros and cons such a move will have. We have to think about all these. As the AK Party, we won't take any steps on issues that will divide our country,” he said, adding that his government has already granted the opportunity to students to learn their mother tongue at school.
“But if you make education in mother tongue possible, this will damage the official language,” he said.
No general amnesty on agenda
With regards to claims that the government may press ahead with a general amnesty that will include PKK members following the convictions in the Ergenekon trial, Erdoğan said the government does not have any such plan on its agenda.
Last week, the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court, which heard the trial into Ergenekon, a shadowy crime network that has alleged links within the state and is suspected of plotting to topple the government, sentenced a former chief of general staff, retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ, to life without parole and handed down harsh sentences to nearly 300 defendants, including many former military force commanders accused of plotting to topple the government.
“We don't have a general amnesty on our agenda. A general amnesty is out of question. With regards to an amnesty, my view is that in crimes committed against individuals, individuals have the right to pardon. In crimes committed against the state, the state has the right to pardon. In crimes such as murder, the state does not have any authority to pardon,” he said.
When asked about the remarks of CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who described the final verdict at the Ergenekon coup trial as illegitimate, saying that the trial from the very beginning lacked solid legal ground and was politically motivated, Erdoğan said such remarks from a political party leader, which he said runs contrary to the Constitution, interest prosecutors more than him.
“He says he does not recognize the judges, the judiciary. It is the main opposition leader saying this. If such statements had been made by our party, what would the judiciary or judges do then?” he said.
Concerning the claims that there will be social unrest in the country in September and incidents similar to Gezi Park protests will break out, Erdoğan said those who create unrest will pay the cost in the heaviest way possible within the boundaries of law.
The Gezi Park demonstrations sparked off in late May in protest of government plans to demolish Gezi Park in İstanbul's Taksim Square. They went nationwide due to the excessive use of force by the police.
Switch to presidential system not a red line of gov't
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said a switch to a presidential system, which was proposed by his government to the parliamentary Constitutional Reconciliation Commission last year, is not a sine qua non for his party.
“I have explained this many times. The switch to a presidential system is a proposal of the AK Party. It is not a prerequisite for us,” he said, adding that if a deadlock takes place in the work of the parliamentary Constitutional Reconciliation Commission due to debate on a presidential system, the AK Party will then withdraw its proposal.
Opposition parties -- the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) -- are against the change to a presidential system and accuse the AK Party government of creating a deadlock in the work of the parliamentary Constitutional Reconciliation Commission with its proposal.
The adoption of a presidential system has been a recurrent point of debate in Turkey with Erdoğan, who supports a presidential system, frequently bringing the issue to the public's attention over the past several years. Many speculate that Erdoğan hopes to become Turkey's first president in the 2014 elections under a new presidential system since he can't run for prime minister again due to the AK Party's self-dictated rules that do not allow deputies to run for more than three consecutive terms in Parliament.