Kurdish Protests Toll Rises to 15

ISTANBUL (Reuters)–Hundreds of Kurds clashed with police in southeast Turkey on Monday and in Istanbul three people were killed as they fled a bus set ablaze by protesters–bringing the death toll over the past week to 15.

The latest violence sustained a week of unrest triggered by the funerals of 14 rebels from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who were killed in clashes with security forces.

It marked some of Turkey’s worst civil unrest since the PKK took up arms against the state in 1984 in an insurgency which has killed more than 30,000 people and fueled fears of an escalation of the conflict.

Demonstrators threw petrol bombs at a bus on Sunday evening and Istanbul’s governor said the three died–apparently crushed by the bus–as they fled. Anatolian news agency said the three victims were two teenage sisters and a 62-year-old woman.

In Istanbul’s Gazi district–which has a sizeable Kurdish population–police also fired tear gas to break up a 150-strong group of stone-throwing youths who had set up barricades and set fire to rubbish containers–CNN Turk reported.

"Molotovs in their bags–massacre on its way," Hurriyet newspaper said in a headline below a photo of masked youths setting petrol bombs alight.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon to break up a crowd of some 500 protesters in Viransehir near the Syrian border–chanting slogans in support of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and waving PKK flags–security officials said.

Police fired shots into the air and the crowd scattered from the main square–throwing petrol bombs and stones at the security forces and local buildings–smashing some windows.

The governor’s office in the mainly Kurdish region’s largest city Diyarbakir said the toll there had risen to nine after three people died in hospital. Two people have died in Kiziltepe near the Syrian border and one in the town of Batman.

"We have launched rapid efforts to heal the wounds? In 10 days 30 of our citizens have lost their lives," said Diyarbakir mayor Osman Baydemir.

Baydemir said it was "shameful" that an official investigation had been launched into commen’s he had made about the latest violence–including the deaths of the militants.

The cabinet is expected to discuss the violence at a meeting on Monday and parliament is scheduled to hold a debate on the issue on Tuesday.

Some 360 people have been injured in the violence–including 199 members of the security forces. Of 566 people detained by police–354 have been remanded in custody awaiting trial.

Political analysts and diplomats say the violence reflects local anger over high unemployment–poverty and Ankara’s refusal to grant more autonomy to the mainly Kurdish region.

Ankara–like the European Union and the United States–regards the PKK as a terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since it launched its armed campaign for an ethnic homeland in 1984.

But many Kurds sympathize with the PKK.

The country’s main Kurdish political group–the Democratic Society Party (DTP) said the government had failed to respond to its calls for talks on the violence.

"We wanted to talk with (Prime Minister Tayyip) Erdogan–but this was rejected. There is a lack of dialogue," DTP deputy chairman Hasip Kaplan said during a visit to the Diyarbakir mayor.

The local DTP leader in Batman turned himself in to police on Monday a day after police ordered his arrest for calling on locals to take part in protest marches.

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