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 Diyarbakir, Tensions spill into Turkey's main Kurdish city 

 Source : AFP
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Diyarbakir, Tensions spill into Turkey's main Kurdish city 28.6.2005


DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, June 28 (AFP) - 11h19 - The mood at Haydar Okur's home after the tense funeral of his son, a Kurdish rebel killed in a clash with Turkish soldiers, was of defiance rather than mourning.

Friends and relatives who gathered in Okur's flat in a poor neighborhood of Diyarbakir, the central city of Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast, shed no tears as they spoke angrily of their dissatisfaction with reforms undertaken by Ankara to expand Kurdish freedoms.

For them, a decision by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to end a five-year unilateral ceasefire, leading to a sharp increase in violence in the region over the past three months, was the inevitable consequence of what they described as continuing discrimination and oppression of the Kurds.

"I would not have wanted my son to go to the mountains," Okur said. "I want peace and no more bloodshed. But the state is still denying the Kurds their full rights. I want justice."

The retired imam (Muslim prayer leader) was speaking late Monday, shortly after burying his 37-year-old son Ahmet, one of five PKK militants killed Friday in a clash with the army in the mountains of neighboring Bingol province.

The funeral turned into a pro-PKK march, quickly degenerating into clashes between the demonstrators and riot police, which left several people injured in this city, which had recently enjoyed relative calm.

Police used truncheons and tear gas to disperse the crowd and, for the first time in several years, according to locals, fired warning shots in the air.

The unrest in Diyarbakir followed the killing of a Kurdish youth last week in Van, 350 kilometres (220 miles) to the northeast, when security forces opened fire at a crowd protesting against the authorities hastily burying two PKK rebels instead of handing the bodies over to their families.

The incidents have sparked fears that clashes between the army and the rebels, confined mainly to remote mountainous areas since the PKK called off its truce on June 1, 2004, are spilling over to urban areas.

At least 65 rebels and 32 soldiers have been killed since April, when the clashes intensified significantly.

The Kurdish conflict has claimed about 37,000 lives, most of them between 1984 and 1999, when the PKK, considered a terrorist group by both the United States and the European Union, waged a bloody campaign for Kurdish self-rule in the region.

The PKK has given up its claim to statehood, but is now pressing Ankara for broader cultural and political rights, which many Turks fear could be a cover for separatist ambitions.

Under pressure from the European Union, which it is seeking to join, Turkey has granted the Kurds a measure of cultural freedoms such as allowing Kurdish language lessons at private institutions and limited broadcasts in Kurdish on public radio and television.

Kurdish intellectuals have called on the PKK to unconditionally lay down their arms, and on the government to end military operations against the rebels as a gesture of good will to encourage a peaceful settlement.

The EU has also expressed concern over the resurgent violence, even though its scale is still uncomparable to the peak years of the PKK independence campaign of the 1990s and the aggressive military riposte it sparked.

The government and the army, however, have vowed that military action will continue as long as the rebels stick to their guns and refuse to surrender.

Many Kurds now fear that the unrest is threatening the fragile freedoms they have only recently gained, as well as any hopes for economic progress in the impoverished region.

"A return to the past would be a disaster, the most terrible thing that can happen to us," said Cengiz, a taxi driver who would not give his last name.



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