ANKARA: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday warned hunger strikers demanding the release of an imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader against “blackmail,” as police fired teargas and water cannon at protesters in the southeast.
“Don’t turn this (strike) into a blackmail,” Erdogan said at an annual meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), referring to the 53-day prison hunger strike by hundreds of inmates nationwide.
Police meanwhile fired tear gas and water cannon to drive back several groups of Kurdish demonstrators throwing firebombs and stones during a protest in southeastern Kurdish-majority Diyarbakir in support of the hunger strikers.
The clashes were sparked by local authorities’ refusal to allow the pro-Kurdish Democracy and Peace Party (BDP) to stage a demonstration in a show of support for the strikers.
At least 20 protesters were detained during the clashes, said an AFP reporter at the scene.
In Ankara, a group of protesters made up of relatives of Kurdish prisoners walked to the prime minister’s office calling for a negotiated solution to the problem, reported the private NTV television.
Several dozen Kurdish detainees began the hunger strike on September 12, the anniversary of a military coup in 1980, with a host of demands including the release of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan and an end to Kurdish language restrictions.
Ocalan was captured by Turkish agents in Nairobi, brought back to Turkey and sentenced to death in 1999.
His death penalty was lifted as part of Turkey’s campaign to join the European Union and commuted to life in prison. Since then, he has been serving a life sentence in a remote island prison.
“We will not release the terrorist chief just because you say so or resort to such an action,” added Erdogan, referring to hunger strikers.
The Turkish government is under increasing pressure over how to tackle the hunger strike by around 700 detainees at more than 50 prisons across the country.
“Right now a lot of people say in public surveys that capital punishment should be reintroduced because the relatives of the dead get hurt while others enjoy themselves at kebab parties,” said Erdogan, referring to Kurdish rebel leadership and its followers.
Among the strikers are several leaders of the chief Kurdish party BDP who are accused of ties to the outlawed PKK, which has for decades sought autonomy for the Kurds in southeastern Turkey.