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 13 Prisoners die in blaze in Turkey's Kurdish region after protesting at poor conditions

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13 Prisoners die in blaze in Turkey's Kurdish region after protesting at poor conditions  18.6.2012  

Photo AA
June 18, 2012

URFA, The Kurdish region of Turkey, — Thirteen prisoners were killed in a blaze that broke out in a jail in the Kurdish region in southeast Turkey overnight on Sunday as inmates set fire to their bedding in a dispute reportedly linked to poor conditions.

The blaze, at a jail housing more than 1,000 prisoners in Sanliurfa province, occurred after a row broke out in a dormitory yesterday evening, provincial governor Celalettin Guvenc told reporters.

According to reports by Turkish sources, the fire which was reportedly started by political prisoners wasn’t intervened by guardians and soldiers for a long time, causing the death of 13 political prisoners and injury of five others, two of whom got serious burnt. ANF news reported.

Police surrounding the prison fired tear gas and water cannon at relatives of inmates who had rushed there on hearing news of the fire. Some of the crowd threw stones at the security forces and banged on the prison gates, Dogan news agency reported.

Local media reports said the prisoners set fire to their bedding in a protest at prison conditions but the governor denied there was any mutiny after inspecting the jail with prosecutors, military officials and the police chief.

"They set fire to the dormitory and unfortunately 13 of the 18 people held there lost their lives," Mr Guvenc said. "There was absolutely no confrontation with the guards or soldiers. This has nothing to do with political prisoners."

Firefighters extinguished the blaze after about 90 minutes. Five surviving inmates sought refuge in a toilet and were later taken to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.

Dogan said the dormitories were designed for 8 people but that 18 people were staying in them, with some having to sleep on the floor. Prison capacity was around 350, but that 1,057 inmates were held at the jail, it said.

In a statement after the incident, the Governor of Urfa announced the names of casualties which are; Şükrü Uldes, Fuat Yıldız, Sinan Özalp, Mehmet Satış, Süphi Köksal, Yunus Eskili, Mehmet Emin Gerçek, Hüseyin Kıskaç, Mehmet Kemal Kılıç, Taner Şimşek, Bakır Tek, Mehmet Aslantay, İbrahim Halil Kaya.

Ibrahim Ayhan, a member of parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) was among the inmates at the prison but was not believed to have been hurt.

Mr Ayhan was detained 20 months ago as part of a nationwide investigation into links between Kurdish activists and militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Media reports said several protests at conditions had occurred at the prison in recent years, usually involving political prisoners including PKK members.

The PKK has several times proposed peaceful solutions regarding Kurdish problem, Turkey has always refused saying that it will not negotiate with “terrorists”.

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, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.

But now its aim is the creation an autonomous Kurdish region and more cultural rights for ethnic Kurds who constitute the greatest minority in Turkey, numbering more than 20 million. A large Turkey's Kurdish community openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK rebels.

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.

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 and 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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