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Kurdish intellectuals hold conference

AFP,2003-11-05

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, Nov 4 (AFP) - 18h09 - Kurdish intellectuals held a conference in their own language for the first time in decades in Turkey on Tuesday, following EU-inspired reforms that have broadened the cultural freedoms of the country's sizeable Kurdish minority.

"We could not even dream of staging such an activity in Diyarbakir 10 years ago," Feridun Celik, the Kurdish mayor of the city, the center of Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast, said in Turkish in the opening session of the gathering.

Other participants delivered speeches in Kurdish before the conference, dedicated to Middle Eastern literature, was closed to the press.

Kurdish intellectuals from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and European countries attended the gathering, which was part of a five-day literature festival organized by the city's municipality.

The Turkish parliament has recently passed a series of democratization reforms aimed at boosting the country's bid to join the European Union.

The EU Commission, the Union's executive arm, will on Wednesday release a report on Turkey's progress towards catching up with EU political norms.

The report is expected to chide Ankara for failing to fully enact the reforms it has passed.

Bureaucratic hurdles have so far prevented the inauguration of Kurdish-language broadcasts and private courses teaching the Kurdish language even though they are now legal.

Turkey had long opposed calls for Kurdish cultural freedoms on fears that such liberties could play into the hands of Kurdish rebels who have fought a bloody 15-year campaign for self-rule in the southeast.

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