Rights Workers Blame Turkey in Kurd Hunger Strike

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkish human rights activists said on Tuesday the government would bear full responsibility for any deaths among Kurdish hunger strikers after the cabinet said it would not give in to the prisoners’ deman’s.

Some 170 members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have been on hunger strike in the eastern city of Erzurum for up to 54 days–demanding more space–weekly meetings with prison officials and sporting activities–activists said.

"If today or tomorrow a few people die in Erzurum–full responsibility will be with the justice minister and the government," Akin Birdal–head of the Human Rights Association (IHD) told a news conference.

Most of the strikers fast for several days before eating briefly and then continue their hunger strike. Rights workers earlier said around 370 prisoners were taking part.

The government said on Monday it would not give in to the prisoners’ deman’s–dashing hopes for an end to the strike.

"All of our meetings whether in Ankara–or in Erzurum have come to nothing…Yesterday’s decision was a deception," said Birdal. The IHD has been trying to mediate in the dispute.

Turkey’s Kurdish problem has been in the international spotlight since hundreds of illegal migran’s–mostly Kurds from Turkey and Iraq–arrived in Italy in the last month.

More than 27,000 people have died in 13 years of conflict between Turkish troops and the PKK–fighting for self-rule in the country’s mainly Kurdish southeast.

Birdal said three of the strikers back in prison on Monday after being force-fed in a hospital had again refused to eat. Doctors said they had willingly accepted treatment.

"Some of the prisoners are not in good condition. Within a few days some of them could die," Birdal said.

Turkey’s justice minister said last week he would not allow any of the prisoners to die–pledging to intervene if necessary.

Twelve leftist prisoners starved themselves to death in 1996 to demand better conditions and access to family and lawyers.

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