Dozens injured, 300 detained in Kurdish protests in Turkey

Dozens injured, 300 detained in Kurdish protests in Turkey

( AFP )- Dozens were injured and 300 detained Saturday as police used truncheons and tear gas to break up violent Kurdish protests in several Turkish cities, police and media reports said.

Three officials from the Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) were among those detained on charges of provoking the unrest.

The disturbances erupted when celebrations marking March 21, Newroz day, or the Kurdish New Year, degenerated into demonstrations in favour of the armed separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist group by Ankara.

The worst clashes took place in the eastern city of Van, where 132 people were rounded up and 53 others, including 15 policemen, were injured, local police chief Mehmet Salih Kesmez said.

DTP provincial chairman Abdurrahman Dogar and his deputy Necmi Kalcik were among those detained, he told Anatolia news agency, adding that the police also raided the DTP office in Van and seized "illegal" publications.

Three demonstrators and a policeman were in intensive care after the clashes, he said.

Riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse a crowd of some 1,500 people, who chanted slogans in favour of the PKK and its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, set bonfires and barricades in the streets and broke the windows of shops and government buildings, media reports said.

Footage on the NTV news channel showed officers hitting protestors with batons and armoured vehicles spraying pressurised water on the crowd.

Young men, hiding their faces behind cloths wrapped around their heads, were seen hurling stones at the police, who took cover behind plastic shields.

Kesmez blamed the unrest on DTP organisers, who defied a decision by Van authorities to allow Newroz gatherings only on Friday.

Two DTP parliament members were also among the crowd.

Another 93 people were rounded up in similar unrest in Sanlurfa, Anatolia reported, adding that 16 protestors were detained in nearby Viransehir late Friday after Molotov cocktails were hurled at the police, injuring nine officers.

Sixteen people, among them three policemen, were wounded and at least 17 protestors taken into custody in Hakkari, near the Iraqi border, and in nearby Siirt, the agency said.

Newroz festivities in other parts of the Kurdish-majority southeast Friday and Saturday were largely peaceful.

But unrest spread also to cities in western Turkey, which are home to sizeable Kurdish migrant communities.

Around 30 people were detained in Mersin, on the Mediterranean coast, and in the Aegean city of Izmir, where police also seized petrol bombs the suspects allegedly planned to use in Newroz protests, Anatolia said.

The DTP provincial chairman in Izmir, Mehmet Bayraktar, was also detained after allegedly calling for a "Newroz rebellion" and praising the PKK, it said.

Newroz is a traditional platform for Turkey's Kurds to demonstrate support for the PKK and demand broader rights. About 50 people were killed during Newroz clashes in 1992.

The PKK took up arms for Kurdish self-rule in the southeast in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed more than 37,000 lives.

This year's Newroz came in the wake of intensified Turkish military action against the PKK, including a week-long cross-border offensive against rebel hideouts in neighbouring northern Iraq last month.

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