ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan welcomed as a "positive development" a ceasefire call by jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan on Thursday but said the important part would be its implementation.
"I see the call, the invitation, as a positive development. However, of course what really matters is to implement this call. What happens in its implementation is very important," Erdogan told reporters during a visit to the Netherlands.
Ocalan, held since 1999 on a prison island in the Marmara Sea, ordered his fighters on Thursday to cease fire and withdraw from Turkish soil as a step to ending a conflict that has killed 40,000 people, polarized the country and battered its economy.
"We want to see ... how Ocalan's declarations will be met as soon as possible. Anyway, from the time it is implemented the atmosphere in Turkey will change. I believe in this," Erdogan said. He said that if PKK rebels pulled out of Turkey as Ocalan had called for, then there would be no need for Turkish military operations against them and they would stop of their own accord.
The Ocalan declaration, in the form of a letter, was read out by pro-Kurdish politicians to hundreds of thousands of people gathered for Kurdish New Year celebrations in Turkey's southeastern city of Diyarbakir.
Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), regarded by the United States, European Union and Turkey as a terrorist group, launched its campaign in 1984, demanding an independent Kurdish state in the southeast of Turkey. It has since moderated its demands to political autonomy and broader cultural rights.
(Writing by Jonathon Burch; editing by Mark Heinrich)
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