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At least a dozen Turkish soldiers are dead, and Turkey's government faces pressure to strike back without going too far.

Turkey is fighting Kurdish separatists. They live inside Turkey and in several neighboring countries but have no Kurdish state of their own. Last week, Turkey's parliament authorized the military to fight the Kurds by crossing the border to strike their camps inside Iraq. Then over the weekend a Kurdish force ambushed a Turkish convoy.

NPR's Ivan Watson reports on what happens now.

IVAN WATSON: Turks awoke to grim montages on morning TV news shows listing the names of the soldiers killed in what was the bloodiest day of fighting in years between the Turkish military and Kurdish rebels known as the PKK.

Flag-waving Turks organized small street demonstrations around the country as news of Turkish casualties trickled out from the border town of Daglica, where fighting erupted after Kurdish rebels ambushed a convoy of Turkish soldiers.

From northern Iraq, spokesmen for the PKK claimed their fighters captured eight Turkish troops during the battle. The Turkish military announced today that eight soldiers had also gone missing since yesterday's clash. Some Turks have lashed out, vandalizing the offices of a Kurdish political party in the Western city of Bursa(ph).

Late Sunday night, Turkish Prime Minister emerged from crisis talks with his top generals and called for calm.

Prime Minister RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN (Turkey): (Turkish spoken)

WATSON: Reporters asked Erdogan whether he would make good on his threat to send troops in to northern Iraq.

Prime Minister ERDOGAN: (Through translator) The struggle against terrorism should never be based on emotions. When the conditions are right, we won't hesitate for a moment to make this decision.

WATSON: Hugh Pope, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, says the Turkish government is under huge domestic pressure to invade Iraq.

Mr. HUGH POPE (Senior Analyst, International Crisis Group): Their options are limited. They've painted themselves into something of a corner domestically because they've built up the impression that the PKK is an external problem based in Iraq and that by trying to eliminate it in Iraq, they can solve the PKK problem in Turkey.

WATSON: Pope says the Kurdish rebels are fighting to regain their relevance by trying to provoke a cross-border military operation.

Mr. POPE: PKK wants to internationalize the Kurdish problem. They want to pull Turkey into the trap. They want to drag it into the morass of Iraq.

WATSON: Turkey has once again demanded that its NATO ally, the U.S., and the Iraqi Kurds who rule northern Iraq take immediate measures against the PKK. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice phoned Prime Minister Erdogan yesterday and reportedly asked him to wait a few more days before taking action.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Kurdish leaders condemned the PKK's violent tactics, but said they were not willing to side with the Turks against their fellow Kurds.

Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, also issued a warning. If there is an invasion, his people would defend themselves against the Turks.

Ivan Watson, NPR News, Istanbul.

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