Kurdish rebels extend Ramadan cease-fire in Turkey for another week, back school boycott

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Kurdish rebels on Monday extended by a week the unilateral cease-fire they had declared for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and urged children to boycott school to press for classes in Kurdish.

The suspension of attacks, declared on Aug. 13, would have expired on Monday, but the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, said in a statement the cease-fire would hold for at least another week as it assessed the situation in Turkey.

The rebels are fighting Turkey for autonomy from bases in northern Iraq

Turkey has ignored all PKK cease-fire declarations in the past and violence has continued. Nine people were killed in a roadside bomb attack on a minibus in southeastern Turkey last week. The government blamed the PKK but the rebels have denied responsibility.

The rebels have staged hit-and-run attacks on Turkish targets mostly from bases in Iraq in their decades-long campaign for autonomy in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the fighting.

Until the cease-fire, the rebels had intensified attacks, saying the government has rejected their calls for a dialogue. The group is labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

The PKK also announced it was backing an initiative by Kurdish groups who have called for a five-day boycott of schools, starting Monday, to force the government into allowing Kurdish-language education for Kurdish children.

"It is a duty of humanity and patriotism to take part in this five-day school boycott. We call on our people to support this meaningful campaign," the Kurdish rebel statement said.

A Kurdish political party had also backed the campaign last week, prompting an angry reaction from the education minister and threats of legal action against parents who heed the boycott.

It was not immediately known how many of Turkey's estimated 16 million children who started a new school year Monday had stayed away. Authorities on Monday detained three people suspected of distributing leaflets and of pressuring families, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.

Teaching in schools is done in Turkish, although Turkey recently took steps toward wider Kurdish-language education by allowing Kurdish-language institutes and Kurdish courses at universities.

Turkey has recently taken other steps to improve the rights of Kurds, who make up 20 percent of Turkey's population of more than 70 million, including allowing Kurdish-language television broadcasts.