ISTANBUL - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday hailed the planned withdrawal of Kurdish rebel fighters from Turkey as the end of a "dark era" but warned against potential sabotage of a historic peace process.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which seeks autonomy for Turkey's Kurdish southeast, on Thursday ordered its fighters in Turkey to begin withdrawing to its main base in the mountains of northern Iraq under a carefully choreographed peace plan.
The withdrawal, due to begin on May 8, follows months of negotiations between Turkish intelligence officers and Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK's jailed leader, to try to end hostilities after the bloodiest fighting in a decade erupted in June 2011. More than 40,000 people, mainly Kurds, have died in the conflict since 1984.
"The door is closing on a dark era. Turkey is changing its ill fortune and is entering a new phase," Erdogan told a business group in comments broadcast live by state television, his first since the withdrawal was announced.
"No one should try to pull this process in a different direction," he added. "We remain vigilant against sabotage, against provocations, but today we are much more hopeful, determined and optimistic."