Violent protests in SE Turkey as Kurd trial resumes

Turkish police fired water cannons and tear gas at protesters hurling fire bombs and stones as a trial of 152 Kurdish activists and politicians resumed.

Violent protests in SE Turkey as Kurd trial resumes

Turkish police fired water cannons and tear gas at protesters hurling fire bombs and stones as a trial of 152 Kurdish activists and politicians resumed in the southeast city of Diyarbakir on Thursday.

Defendants on trial, accused of illegal political activities including ties to the PKK, have demanded that they should be allowed to state their case in Kurdish, and arguments began as soon the first of the accused took the stand.

The head judge refused to listen to testimony in Kurdish saying he did not understand or speak Kurdish and wanted it to be written in court records as "an unknown language". He then switched off the microphone.

Judges and lawyers argued over the point as more defendants took the stand insisting on using Kurdish, and eventually the three-judge panel decided to call a recess.

The accused, of whom 104 have been held in custody, could face jail sentences of 15 years to life if found guilty. The hearing was the fifteenth in a trial that began in October.

As they were driven to court in armoured vehicles, the accused made "V" signs for victory with their hands through the windows, and chanted in Kurdish. Many shopkeepers kept shops shut in provinces throughout mainly Kurdish southeast.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group has called a unilateral ceasefire until June when Turkey holds a general election. There has been a lull in the ethnic conflict that has claimed 40,000 lives since it erupted in the 1980s.

But separatist sentiments have flared in recent weeks following calls for greater recognition of the Kurdish language by the Turkish state and a draft proposal for autonomy issued last month by a pro-Kurdish political group.

Prime Minister Taayip Erdogan launched an initiative in 2009 to expand rights for Kurds, who make up between 15 and 20 percent of Turkey's 73 million population. The initiative is focused on cultural and language reforms, but has met resistance from ordinary Turks as well as die-hard nationalists.

President Abdullah Gul, who visited Diyarbakir at the end of December, has urged the Kurds to put their faith in the democratic system, rather than be led by any militant agenda.


Agencies

Last Mod: 14 Ocak 2011, 10:54
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