In Turkey, Kurdish activists begin hunger strike

Sunday 04/09/2016
Strike will continue for unspecified period of time

DIYARBAKIR (Turkey) - A group of Kurdish activists including MPs on Monday began a hunger strike to protest the lack of news about the welfare of jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Fifty activists, wearing T-shirts with Ocalan pictures, said they had received no update about him for several months.

"We haven't received any objective information about Ocalan's state of health and security," said the group's spokeswoman Sabahat Tuncel in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir in the southeast.

"We, as 50 volunteers, are beginning a hunger strike for an unspecified period of time until a meeting is secured between Mr Ocalan and his lawyers, his family or a political delegation."

Ocalan, who heads the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which is blacklisted as a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies, is serving life for treason at an island prison near Istanbul.

Since the collapse in July 2015 of a fragile ceasefire between the PKK and the Turkish state, he has not been permitted visits by lawyers or supporters.

"The strike will continue for an unspecified period of time," Ferhat Encu, MP for the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), said.

"We joined this strike voluntarily and will continue till the end," he said.

Dilek Ocalan, a niece of the jailed PKK leader and an HDP lawmaker, said their action should not be interpreted as a sign of weakness.

"It is the minimum demand of people who call for peace and settlement," she added.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag had on Sunday dismissed claims there were any problems with Ocalan's health or his security in a statement carried by state-run Anadolu news agency.

"On the subject of Abdullah Ocalan, the subject is constantly exploited by the separatist terror organisation (PKK) and the public receives false information," he said.

"To mobilise the public and for their own objectives, they spread unfounded information about (his) health and safety," he added.

The protest comes as Turkey's military stepped up its campaign against PKK rebels in the southeast.

At the weekend, Turkish warplanes bombed four PKK targets in the Cukurca region near the Iraqi border after 22 soldiers and a village guard were killed in clashes and an attack blamed on the rebel group.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim visited Diyarbakir on Sunday in a bid to boost investment in areas "damaged by PKK terror."

He said that 1.9 billion lira ($645 million/577 million euros) would be invested in the city's historic Sur district, which has been ravaged by renewed violence.