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 Turkey under pressure over Kurdish hunger strike 

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Turkey under pressure over Kurdish hunger strike  29.10.2012  

Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş during a rally to support Kurdish inmates conducting a hunger strike in Batman, Turkey's Kurdish region (northern Kurdistan) on Oct. 27, 2012. Photo: DHA   See Related Articles

Photo: EPA
BDP's Demirtaş says Turkish government must produce solutions, Kurdish people will not remain silent on the ongoing detentions, arrests, military operations and the denial of the right to self-defence in mother language.

October 29, 2012

ANKARA/DIYARBAKIR,— The Turkish government is under increasing pressure over how to tackle a hunger strike by hundreds of Kurdish prisoners across the country as the protest nears its eighth week and their health deteriorates.

Around 700 detainees mostly Kurds at more than 50 prisons are surviving on salted or sweetened water and vitamins alone in a strike that has gained momentum since it began with several dozen detainees last month.

Among the strikers are several leaders of the chief Kurdish party, the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). They are accused of ties to the outlawed rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has for decades sought autonomy for the Kurds.

"The strikers' situation is deteriorating with every day," a Human Rights Association (IHD) official told AFP, saying the inmates had been mistreated but without providing details.

He said the government needed to act to bring about an end to the protest, a call that was echoed in the press and by main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who implored the strikers to abandon their action while also addressing the government's role.

"I am asking the party in power to be more sensitive to these people's requests," he was quoted as saying in Friday's English-language Hurriyet Daily News.

Several dozen Kurdish detainees began the strike on September 12, the anniversary of a military coup in 1980, with a host of demands including the release of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and an end to Kurdish language restrictions.

'Give up this action'

With the pressure on, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin paid an unexpected visit Wednesday, on the eve of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, to an Ankara prison where strikers are being held and called on them to halt their action.

"For the well-being of your body, your health, your families: give up this action," he said.

He said the conservative Islamist-rooted government was listening to the strikers and that it could allow Kurds appearing in court to have the right to defend themselves in their mother tongue, which is one of their demands.

But he offered no concessions on another demand: the authorisation of the use of Kurdish in all public places. This is a tough demand for the government to satisfy, even if there have been big steps forward in recent years in the area of Kurdish cultural rights as Turkey bids to join the European Union.

The strikers are also calling for the release of Ocalan, who has been serving out a life sentence in a remote island prison since 1999.

On Friday, BDP leaders sought permission from officials to visit Ocalan.

The party's co-chair Selahattin Demirtas said "a major step would be taken" toward putting an end to the hunger strike if they were able to ask Ocalan to intervene.

Demirtas said the hunger strikes would come to an end if his party is allowed to prepare the ground for negotiations with Ocalan.

"There will be no solution unless a leader of a people is set free, and mother-tongue education is allowed," Demirtas was quoted as saying by the Hurriyet newspaper on Sunday.

Reminding that the death fasts have entered 46th day, Demirtas said that; “Since the very beginning of the strike, we have been pointing out that we are in a critical process and that the Turkish government will be responsible for potential deaths if no steps are taken. However, we are now standing at a point where words fail. Now that neither our nor the Ministry of Justice’s call can stop the strike, the government must produce solutions and take urgent steps instead of asking prisoners to end the hunger strike. We are taking to the streets to make sure that these people can live, not die. The demands they voice are the demands of the Kurdish people.”

Responding to government officials’ statements “BDP is taking the people to death on streets”, BDP co-chair criticized Turkish authorities for accusing the BDP instead of giving ear to hunger strikers. Demirtas also criticized Interior Minister for instructing police forces to attack the people supporting strikers and repeated his call to the Minister of Justice to take braver steps towards Imralı, which he underlined as the key point of the solution.

Demirtas pointed out that the Kurdish people will not remain silent on the ongoing detentions, arrests, military operations and the denial of the right to self-defence in mother language.

Demirtas continued remarking that Turkish authorities are violating the laws for the last one and a half year by denying Öcalan meeting with his family and lawyers on the pretext of “defective coaster”. BDP co-chair also underlined that the Kurdish problem cannot be resolved unless Öcalan’s freedom is ensured and called on government authorities to give an end to this unlawfulness and to pave the way for dialogue and peace.

Demirtaş ended saying that the resistance of the Kurdish people will not be defeated by the operations targeting them.

Reached by AFP, the justice ministry declined to comment on the possibility of such a visit, which would be a first, but a source close to the government said the authorities were doing all they could to end the hunger strike, adding that none of the strikers' lives are in danger.

"The government must put an end to Ocalan's isolation and immediately, without wasting time, take the necessary steps to end this tragedy," columnist Oral Calislar wrote in the Radikal daily.

The strike comes amid a major escalation in fighting between Kurdish rebels and the army, with no political solution in sight to a dispute that has spanned decades.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who hardened his position on the Kurdish issue following deadly attacks by the PKK last year, has also said his government was ready to resume negotiations with the rebel group that were launched in 2010.

Since 1980 at least 144 prisoners in Turkey have died in hunger strikes, according to an IHD statement, 28 of them during the government's brutal crackdown on an inmate strike against new prison conditions in 2000.

Since it was established in 1984, the PKK has been fighting the Turkish state, which still denies the constitutional existence of Kurds, to establish a Kurdish state in the south east of the country. By 2012, more than 45,000 people have since been killed.

But now its aim is the creation an autonomous region and more cultural rights for ethnic Kurds who constitute the greatest minority in Turkey.  A large Turkey's Kurdish community, numbering to 23 million, openly sympathise with PKK rebels.

The PKK wants constitutional recognition for the Kurds, regional self-governance and Kurdish-language education in schools.

PKK's demands included releasing PKK detainees, lifting the ban on education in Kurdish, paving the way for an autonomous democrat Kurdish system within Turkey, reducing pressure on the detained PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, stopping military action against the Kurdish party and recomposing the Turkish constitution.

The rebels have scaled back their demands for more political autonomy for Turkey's estimated 23 million ethnic Kurds.

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some 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 PKK is considered as 'terrorist' organization by Ankara, U.S., the PKK continues to be on the blacklist list in EU despite court ruling which overturned a decision to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its political wing on the European Union's terror list.

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