No Improvemen’s in Human Rights in Turkey Group Says

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkish human rights activists Tuesday blamed the government for prolonging a Kurdish prison hunger strike and said there had been no improvement in Turkey’s human rights record over the past year.

About 170 imprisoned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members 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.

Turkey has come under pressure to solve its Kurdish problem since hundreds of illegal migran’s – mostly Kurds from Turkey and Iraq–arrived in Italy in the last month.

Rights activists say Turkey is conducting a dirty war against the PKK–forcibly emptying villages–torturing and killing suspects–leading to a wave of migration from the mainly Kurdish southeast to Turkey’s big cities and Europe.

An IHD report for 1997–released on Tuesday–said 114 people had died from extra-judicial killings or torture in custody last year–while another 66 had disappeared after being arrested. Some 366 people said they had been tortured by police–it said.

Broadly similar figures were recorded by the group for 1996.

"The only difference in 1997 was that human rights were more talked about… But there has been no change to the political–constitutional or legal system which opens the way to human rights violations," the IHD report said.

A poor human rights record was among the reasons cited by the European Union for excluding Turkey from membership at a Luxembourg summit last month. Turkey said it would not discuss the matter with the EU after the decision.

In a sign of its hardening attitude–the Turkish government said on Monday it would never give in to the Kurdish hunger strikers’ deman’s–dashing hopes for an end to the dispute.

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

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

Birdal said three of the strikers sent back to prison on Monday after receiving treatment in hospital had again refused to eat. Doctors said they had willingly accepted treatment.

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

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