Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kurds clash with Turkey police on PKK-leader capture anniversary

Kurds demonstrating in Turkey. FILE PHOTO

Security forces responded with tear gas and water cannon, detaining about 30 people.
Hundreds of Kurdish demonstrators clashed with police here Monday in a protest marking the anniversary of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan's capture.

About 3,000 people attended a meeting in Diyarbakir, the largest city of Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast, to denounce Ocalan's capture on February 15, 1999 and his current solitary confinement in a high-security jail.

The protest turned ugly when police stopped the crowd from marching through the city and came under a hail of stones and sticks, an AFP reporter said.

Some protesters barricaded streets and burned tyres, shouting "Long live chairman Apo," using Ocalan's nickname.

Security forces responded with tear gas and water cannon, detaining about 30 people.

Similar unrest broke in downtown Istanbul where demonstrators blocked a busy street following a gathering to denounce Ocalan's capture, prompting police to use tear gas, an AFP photographer said.
Police intervened with water cannons after protesters began hurling rocks in the southeastern town of Yuksekova AA photo

Ocalan, the 60-year-old founder of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), who had been forced from his long-time home in Syria by Turkish pressure in 1998, embarked on an odyssey through several European countries and ended up in the residence of the Greek ambassador in Nairobi and with the help of western countries was kidnaped and handed over to the Turkish government.

Following the kidnaping, large protests by Kurds erupted all over Europe. Ocalan was put on trial on the prison island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmara near Istanbul and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life in prison, after Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2002. Ocalan is the only prisoner on the heavily guarded prison island and is allowed only visits from close relatives and his lawyers.

For many Kurds, however, he is a national hero and his conditions in jail are closely followed.

Since 1984 PKK took up arms for self-rule in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey (Northern Kurdistan). A large Kurdish community openly sympathize with the Kurdish PKK freedom fighters.

The PKK demands Turkey's recognition of the Kurds' identity in its constitution and of their language as a native language along with Turkish in the country's Kurdish areas, the party also demands an end to ethnic discrimination in Turkish laws and constitution against Kurds, ranting them full political freedoms.

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish politicians say the measures fall short of their expectations.

The Kurdish south of Turkey erupted in protests in December in the wake of the ban of DTP and officials have rounded up scores of pro-Kurdish politicians as tensions escalate.