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    Turkey PM plays down war fears

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    The Turkish prime minister said Friday Ankara might not go ahead with a cross-border operation against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq after all.

    ANKARA, November 2 (RIA Novosti) - The Turkish prime minister said Friday Ankara might not go ahead with a cross-border operation against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq after all.

    Turkey has now amassed up to 150,000 troops in anticipation of a major military operation, which has been backed by parliament, against around 3,500 Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) insurgents based in Iraq.

    "Some people might get the impression that Turkey is gearing up for war. But we have no plans for war - only a cross-border operation. We hope that it will be unnecessary," Tayyip Erdogan said in Ankara, following the arrival of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

    Rice said that Kurdish rebels were a "common threat" that the United States would help Turkey to confront.

    "We consider this a common threat, not just to the interests of Turkey but to the interests of the United States as well," she said at a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan. "This is going to take persistence and it's going to take commitment."

    Erdogan is set to hold talks with United States President George W. Bush on the issue Monday in Washington. The U.S. has advised Turkey against a large-scale cross-border operation against Kurdish separatists.

    The Turkish government approved on Wednesday a set of sanctions against groups backing the rebels. The measures are likely to weaken the Kurdish administration in north Iraq, led by Masoud Barzani, who Ankara has criticized over a lack of action against the militants.

    Ankara has urged the Iraqi authorities to ban the PKK, take strong measures to prevent the Kurdish separatists entering Turkey from northern Iraq, and to hand over PKK leaders.

    Turkish media reported today that Ankara could impose further sanctions against north Iraq, including trade restrictions, power cuts, and financial restrictions on companies controlled by the Kurdish administration.

    Analysts say the Kurdish administration's possible losses from an economic embargo could exceed $400 million.

    Turkish authorities have warned they may start the cross-border operation at any moment. A final decision is expected to be made after Prime Minister Erdogan's talks with President Bush on November 5.

    Erdogan said on Tuesday that Turkey expects urgent action from the United States to destroy Kurdish insurgent bases in north Iraq.

    The PKK, labeled by the U.S., NATO and the EU as a terrorist organization, has been fighting for autonomy status in southeast Turkey for nearly 25 years. The conflict has so far claimed about 40,000 lives, including 80 Kurdish militants killed in special operations conducted by the Turkish army near the border with Iraq last week. And since late September, 35 Turkish soldiers have been killed by Kurdish guerilla attacks.

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