Turkey OK's pursuit of Kurdish rebels into Iraq

With an overwhelming majority, the Turkish government on Wednesday cleared the way for a cross-border military incursion into northern Iraq in order to chase down Kurdish rebels based there.

With an overwhelming majority,the Turkish governmenton Wednesdaycleared the way fora cross-border military incursion into northern Iraq in order to chase down Kurdish rebels based there.

It was no surprise that parliament favoured the possible incursion in the 507-19 vote, but the government still appeared willing to give diplomacy a last-ditch effort.

Turkey'sparliament began debating whether to approve the offensive on Wednesday, but Turkish leaders stopped short of saying that any motion authorizing such a move would be followed immediately by a military operation.

Parliament Speaker Koksal Toptan said Turkey now had authority to enter Iraq over a one-year period to stage a military operation. Lawmakers then broke into applause.

Turkey has been under immense pressure to take strong action against the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK, for a series of deadly attacks against Turkish troops. Earlier this month, rebels shot dead 13 Turkish soldiers in the worst such incident in years.

International opinion has been divided.

At a White House press conference, U.S. President George W. Bush told reporters the U.S. position was that Turkey should refrain from sending a massive number of troops over the border into Iraq.

'We don't think it's in their interest'

Turkey has already had troops stationed in Iraq "for quite a while," Bush said, adding: "We don't think it's in their interest to send more troops in."

The Iraqi government, meanwhile, asked for patience. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki phoned Turkish President Abdullah Gul hours before the vote to stress that his government was committed to stopping the PKK's "terrorist activities" inside Iraq.

Gul also accepted another phone call from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, sending a similar message of restraint.

Visiting Syrian President Bashar Assad called for crisis talks, even though he voiced his support Wednesday for Turkey's "legitimate right" to cross over and take a stand against terrorism.

"We support decisions that Turkey has on its agenda, we are backing them," Assad told reporters. "We accept this as Turkey's legitimate right. As Syria, we are supporting all decisions by Turkey and we are standing behind them."

The Turkish government has not yet ruled out holding diplomatic talks before it decides to send Turkish troopsacross the borderto target the Iraq-based PKK bases.

The PKK, also known as the Kurdistan Workers Party, believes in the creation of an independent Kurdistan nation in an area that comprises parts of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran.

With files from the Associated Press