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Violence Spreads in Turkey's Kurdish Region

30 March 2006

A child is reported in critical condition after Kurdish demonstrators clashed with security forces for a third day, Thursday, in the Turkish city of Diyarbakir.

Turkish police backed by armored personnel carriers used tear gas and truncheons to disperse a violent march Thursday by tens of thousands of Kurdish protesters in Diyarbakir. A seven-year-old boy was reported to be in critical condition after sustaining bullet wounds in his stomach. Witnesses said he was fired on by police. The reports could not be confirmed.

The urban skirmishes, described as the worst in the past decade, first erupted on Tuesday during funeral services for 14 rebels of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

The rebels were killed by Turkish security forces in the neighboring province of Mus over the weekend.

Four of the rebels were from Diyarbakir, the most populous city in southeastern Turkey, a hotbed of Kurdish nationalism. Thousands of Kurds clashed with security forces during a funeral organized for the rebels on Wednesday. Three mourners, including an eight-year-old boy, were killed in the clashes. Elsewhere across the city, teenagers chanting Kurdish nationalist slogans smashed hundreds of shop windows and torched businesses and government offices in rioting that lasted for several hours.

Most shops remained closed Thursday and most residents kept to their homes, fearing unrest during the funeral for the three victims of Wednesday's violence.

Eyewitnesses said the violence was triggered by teenage youths who hurled rocks at a police station on the way to the cemetery.

The chief of Turkish National police and other high ranking security officials gathered in Diyarbakir Thursday as the violence spread to the neighboring city of Batman.

Officials there say some 5,000 demonstrators, protesting Wednesday's deaths, torched and ransacked around 300 shops, banks and government offices in the city. At least 20 people were reported to have been wounded when police intervened to disperse that demonstration.

Violence has been steadily escalating in Diyarbakir and the surrounding region since June 2004. That is when the PKK ended a five year unilateral truce it had declared following the capture of its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in February 1999. The PKK said it was taking up arms again because of what it termed the government's failure to broker a lasting peace. The rebel group began its armed campaign, initially for independence and later for autonomy, in 1984. Over 30,000 people have died in the fighting.

Western governments had long criticized the Turkish army for the brutal methods employed to suppress the rebellion in the Kurdish region. Turkey has adopted a more conciliatory approach toward the Kurds in recent years, including easing bans on the Kurdish language, as it seeks to gain entry of the European Union.

Analysts say the escalation in violence risks jeopardizing the reform process, as the Ankara government has begun taking tougher measures to counter the PKK. On Thursday, the interior ministry launched an investigation of Diyarbakir mayor Osman Baydemir for expressing sympathy for the dead PKK rebels.

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