DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, March 21 (UPI) -- Armed forces of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) should cease fire and withdraw from Turkey, the leader of the party told a gathering of thousands Thursday.
"A door is now opening on a democratic process after a period of armed struggle," Abdullah Ocalan said in a statement read by party leaders, Today's Zaman reported.
"Guns should fall silent and politics should come to the foreground," said Ocalan, who has been imprisoned on an island in the Marmara Sea since 1999. "The stage has been reached where our armed forces should withdraw beyond the borders. It is not the end, it is the start of a new era,"
A ceasefire would offer financial relief to Turkey, a European Union candidate. Fighting with the PKK since 1984 has drained financial resources, stunted development of the mostly Kurdish southeast portion of the country and scarred the country's human rights record, all stumbling blocks to the EU accession process,
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Nevruz Park to celebrate the new year and hear Ocalan's message.
Approximately 5,000 private security officers joined 3,000 police forces to maintain peace at the gathering, the Hurriyet Daily News reported.
The main celebration area was filled about 9 a.m.
The thousands of people in attendance, some of whom had come from neighboring provinces, left accommodations so scarce that officials of the Peace and Democracy Party asked local residents to open their homes to the travelers.