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Jailed Kurdish rebel leader calls on PKK to lay down arms

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ANKARA, Turkey — Imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan has called on his fighters to lay down arms as part of a peace process to end a 30-year insurgency, Turkey's main Kurdish party said Saturday.

Ocalan is asking his Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, to hold an extraordinary congress in the spring to take the "historic decision" to end its armed struggle, pro-Kurdish legislator Sirri Sureyya Onder said.

There was no immediate response from PKK commanders who are based in northern Iraq, but the group generally heeds Ocalan's calls.

Ocalan has been serving a life term in prison on an island south of Istanbul since 1999, but retains influence over his fighters.

Turkey began talking to Ocalan in 2012 with the aim of ending the conflict, which has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.

Ocalan declared a cease-fire in 2013 and ordered the PKK to withdraw fighters to bases in neighboring northern Iraq as part of the peace efforts. The cease-fire is still in place, but the PKK halted its withdrawal a few months later, saying Turkey hadn't taken any steps to reciprocate.

"The dialogue which, from time to time hits disruptions and breakages, has reached ... a serious stage," said Onder, who is among a group of Kurdish politicians allowed to visit Ocalan on his prison island off Istanbul to discuss the peace efforts.

He quoted Ocalan as saying: "This call (for a congress) is a declaration of intent for democratic politics to replace the armed struggle."

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Ocalan's call, but sounded unconvinced that the move would lead to peace.

"These calls are very nice, but what matters is their implementation," Erdogan said. "I hope that they stand behind this statement."

"It is the members of the terror group that have to abandon arms," Erdogan added. "If they expect our security forces to abandon arms, this would be nothing but pure dream."

Onder spoke after a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan, who also described Ocalan's call as a major step.

"We regard the statement toward the acceleration of efforts to lay down arms as important," he said.

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