DIYARBAKIR — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday sought to persuade voters in the heartland of Turkey’s Kurdish minority to vote for him in June 24 polls, arguing his party had done the most to rebuild the area and find peace after years of violence.
Erdogan told a mass rally attended by thousands in the Kurdish-majority southeastern city of Diyarbakir that the area was enjoying "peace like never in the last 40 years" and that the "state had never been so close to the people".
The authorities are still battling the insurgency that dates back to 1984 of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which initially took up arms for a separate state but now demands more autonomy.
Erdogan backed peace talks in the early years of the decade but a ceasefire collapsed in 2015 and there have been deadly clashes ever since.
Turkey’s Kurds, estimated to make up at least one fifth of the population, will be crucial in determining the outcome of the parliamentary and presidential polls.
While large numbers are expected to vote for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) which is focused on Kurdish interests, Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been able to count on solid support from religiously conservative Kurds.
Erdogan launched a lacerating attack on the HDP, saying "we (the AKP) build but they destroy".
"They (the HDP) are here for destroying this country.... Are you ready to teach them the right lesson on June 24?" he asked.
The AKP accuses the HDP of being the political front of the PKK and being complicit in militant violence, charges the party denies.
The HDP’s former co-leader and one of Erdogan’s challengers in the presidential race, Selahattin Demirtas, has been in jail since November 2016 on hugely controversial terror propoganda charges.
Erdogan accused Demirtas of having blood on his hands over the deaths of dozens of mainly Kurdish protesters in October 2014 rallies he called that turned violent.
"Sooner or later he will pay the price," Erdogan said.
Erdogan rejected the description by Kurdish activists and politicians that Turkey has a "Kurdish problem", saying: "We face just one problem, a terror problem. With thanks to God, we are also solving this."
Three Turkish soldiers were killed Sunday in the Hakkari province further to the east by PKK fighters, state media said.
Diyarbakir has never been an AKP stronghold with 67.6 per cent voting ’no’ in the 2017 referendum on Erdogan’s plan to give the presidency more powers.
In the November 2015 parliamentary elections, the HDP won 70 per cent of the vote in the Diyarbakir region and the AKP just 22 per cent. — AFP