Tensions Mount during Nevruz Celebrations in Turkey

ANKARA (Combined Sources)–Nevruz spring holiday celebrations turned into altercations between police and thousands of Kurds Sunday in several Turkish cities.

The clashes erupted in Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu district as more than 50,000 Kurds carried signs and chanted slogans supporting imprisoned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Several armored personnel carriers were deployed around the meeting area anticipating further violence.

The Anatolia news agency reported that 4,500 policemen–500 gendarmerie and 1,000 soldiers were there ensure security for Sunday’s festivities in Istanbul. A crisis center was set up at provincial police headquarters to follow any possible clashes closely.

In the Aegean port of Izmir–police used tear gas to break up a demonstration by an estimated 10,000 Kurds.

Nevruz celebrations started in Semdinli–Hakkari on Saturday with a bonfire that symbolizes the arrival of spring.

In Hakkari–located on the Iranian border–Democratic Turkey Party (DTP) co-chair Ahmet Turk told a rally attended by thousands that Ankara should open up a dialogue with the PKK to agree on a peace deal.

Turk said that the country’s problems cannot be solved through military means but through reason and brotherhood. Asking for a general amnesty for all political prisoners convicted on charges of being affiliated to the PKK–Turk said that Turkey cannot become a member of the civilized world by denying the identity of some communities.

In Sanliurfa–15,000 people attended the celebrations featuring prominent members of the PKK and Ocalan’s brother–Mehmet Ocalan.

Violence erupted when police tried to stop around 200 Kurds from marching toward the DTP headquarters. At least 27 people were arrested by the police who also beat several protesters.

Nevruz–which means "new day" in Kurdish–has long served as a rallying cry for Kurdish nationalism and public celebrations were illegal in Turkey until 2000–when fighting between security forces and separatist guerrillas fell sharply.

But there has been an upturn in violence in the impoverished region since the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) ended a unilateral ceasefire in 2004.

Turkish authorities barred civil servants from taking part in this year’s Nevruz celebrations amid fears of increased separatist violence.

Hidir Kahveci–deputy governor of Diyarbakir–the biggest city in the southeast–said civil servants ignoring the order would face disciplinary action.

Nevruz is not a public holiday in Turkey and civil servants are expected to work.

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