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Published: Wednesday June 25, 2014 MYT 1:50:02 PM
Updated: Wednesday June 25, 2014 MYT 1:51:27 PM

Turkey to present Kurdish reform bill within days - minister

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The Turkish government aims to present to parliament in the coming days a reform bill to advance its peace process with Kurdish militants, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said.

Such a move could boost Kurdish support for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan ahead of his expected bid to become the country's first directly elected president in August. Kurds account for around a fifth of Turkey's population.

Erdogan initiated peace talks with jailed militant leader Abdullah Ocalan in 2012 to end a three-decade insurgency by his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has killed 40,000 people. Increased militant activity and street protests in recent months have sowed fears over prospects for a final deal.

But Atalay told reporters in Bucharest on Tuesday the government had completed work on giving the process a legal framework and was seeking ministers' signatures for the bill.

"I gave a presentation on it at the last cabinet meeting. A decision was made and within a couple of days we will present it to parliament as a draft law," he said in comments broadcast on Turkish television on Wednesday.

Hurriyet newspaper said the new seven-article bill would provide a 'legal guarantee' to state officials involved in the peace process, protecting them from potential future prosecution, and facilitate the rehabilitation of militants.

Erdogan has invested significant political capital in peace efforts, boosting cultural and language rights at the risk of alienating some of his grassroots support. Ankara, the United States and the European Union term the PKK a terrorist group and Ocalan remains widely reviled among Turks.

A ceasefire called by Ocalan in March 2013 has largely held, but the PKK halted a rebel withdrawal to bases in northern Iraq last summer, complaining about the slow pace of negotiations.

(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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