DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (AFP)–One person was killed and scores detained in southeast Turkey Friday as police broke up demonstrations by Kurds marking the ninth anniversary of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan’s capture, officials and witnesses said. A youth aged 15 died after being wounded in the head in unclear circumstances in the town of Cizre, in Mardin province close to the Syrian border.
Tensions ran high in Hakkari, near the Iraqi border, where the security forces stopped about 200 people from holding a march in support of Ocalan, who was captured in Kenya on February 15, 1999. The demonstrators hurled stones at the police as the security forces responded with tear gas and fired warning shots in the air to disperse the crowd. Many shops had their windows broken.
Ocalan is the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Ankara and much of the international community. He has been serving a life sentence for treason since 1999.
Similar unrest broke out in Batman, to the east, where many shopkeepers joined the protests by keeping their businesses closed, a traditional expression of support for Ocalan and his separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in the mainly Kurdish southeast.
In Diyarbakir, the largest city of the region, riot police broke up several smaller demonstrations, while the Democratic Society Party, or DTP, the country’s main Kurdish political movement, hung a black flag on its building.
Turkish undercover agents, aided by U.S. colleagues, captured Ocalan in Nairobi after the rebel chieftain left the Greek embassy there, where he had been offered refuge for several days while on the run.
He was flown to Turkey and sentenced to death for treason in June 1999. His sentence was later commuted to life in prison as Turkey abolished capital punishment as part of EU-sought reforms.
The Kurdish conflict in Turkey has claimed more than 37,000 lives since 1984 when the PKK took up arms in self-defense and self-rule in the southeast.
Since December 16, Turkish warplanes have carried out five bombing raids on PKK positions in northern Iraq, where the group takes refuge.
In other news, a Kurdish mayor in southeastern Turkey was sentenced to 10 months in prison Thursday for praising jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.
The court in Diyarbakir sentenced Huseyin Kalkan, the mayor of nearby Batman and member of Turkey’s main Kurdish party, under a provision that penalizes helping terrorist groups and spreading their propaganda. The charges against Kalkan stemmed from a 2006 interview with the Los Angeles Times in which he described Ocalan as the leader of the Kurdish people, argued that the PKK was not a terrorist group and that its members should be allowed to do politics.
Kalkan’s lawyers argued that their client used his democratic right to express his opinions and said they would appeal the sentence.
Kalkan’s Democratic Society Party, or DTP, itself is under the risk of being banned for alleged links with the PKK in a case at the Constitutional Court.
The DTP, which holds 20 seats in the 550-member parliament, rejects the accusations, but its members have often come under fire for refusing to brand the PKK a terrorist group and for voicing sympathy for the PKK.