While more than 650 Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey’s prison have been on a hunger-strike more than 6 weeks, thousands of Kurds in Turkey have taken to the streets in solidarity with the incarcerated protestors, resulting in clashes with the Turkish police in many places. The worst clashes were at Diyarbakir prison, in south-eastern Turkey, but they also took place in Istanbul, the BBC reported on Tuesday. The hunger-strikers, who have been on a fast since September 12, have been demanding an end to the solitary confinement of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan as well as the right to use the Kurdish language in Turkey’s legal and educational systems.
The PKK leader Mr. Ocalan, who was captured in 1999 and sentenced to death, had his sentence commuted to life after Turkey abolished the death penalty and has been in solitary confinement.
The hunger-strikers include several leaders of the main Kurdish party in Turkey, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). They are not taking any solid food, but subsisting only on water mixed with small amounts of salt and sugar, media reports say.
The Turkish police used water cannons and tear gas to break up the demonstrations of thousands of Kurds in Istanbul who were conveying solidarity with the demands of hunger-strikers, also concerned with their deteriorating health conditions.
Responding to the protests, Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan blamed the PKK leaders for the hunger-strike, stating that “You cannot blackmail the state by dying.”
In a separate incident in Ankara on Tuesday, Turkish police used tear gas and water cannon to stop a march of pro-secularist activists who were protesting against the increasing authoritarianism and Islamism in the Erdogan lead government.