Safak Timur, AFP
Last updated: 31 December, 2011

Hundreds of Kurds protest death of separatist rebels

Hundreds of Kurds staged a violent protest Saturday in southeastern Turkey after police said two Kurdish rebels had been killed in a gunbattle after a raid on their hideout.

The protestors demonstrated near where the two alleged members of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) died earlier in the centre of Diyarbakir, the main city of the majority Kurdish region.

Many claimed that police had “executed” the pair and then said that they were PKK rebels who had resisted.

The incident came days after the killing of 35 Kurds in an airstrike on the Iraqi border who turned out to be civilian smugglers and not rebel fighters as the military claimed.

“They were university students and they did not own any guns,” said an 18-year-old protestor, contradicting local police who said the pair were rebels and two rifles and three hand grenades had been seized.

“Police threatened us and told us ‘Your end will be like theirs,’ when we were around the house where the killings happened,” said a 17-year-old.

Raci Bilici of the Human Rights Association’s Diyarbakir branch told AFP he had tried to visit the scene with three other rights activists to investigate the claims, but the police stopped them.

The claims of locals should be taken seriously, Bilici said.

“The governor in a statement said the two threw themselves from the balcony of their flat. Why would they do that while there were hundreds of police officers outside?”

Diyarbakir governor Mustafa Toprak said the two threw themselves out of the balcony from the third floor of the apartment so not to get captured alive.

“After the autopsy the cause of their death, how many bullets they received, would be clear,” media reports quoted Toprak as saying, after he visited a police officer who was reportedly injured in the shootout.

Police said the fingerprints of the dead men revealed they were among the perpetrators of a recent attack in the Kurdish-dominated area that left two police officers dead.

“The police took revenge for the two officers,” said the 18-year-old demonstrator.

Demonstrators chanted slogans and threw stones at the police, who responded with water cannon and tear gas grenades and made several arrests, as clashes between the police and small groups of youngsters, including children, spread to the side streets.

At least 14 demonstrators were detained, according to eyewitnesses.

An AFP reporter at the scene was warned by police not to talk to the demonstrators.

An armoured police car hit one man on the left side of his body just before the clashes started between police and demonstrators, a 27-year-old eyewitness said, declining to give his name.

Burhan Marangoz, 52, whose son was one of 10 people killed in a bombing in Diyarbakir in 2006, called for an end to the violence.

“I want (Prime Minister Recep Tayyip) Erdogan to tell me why we go through all this,” he said.

Tensions are running high in the region after Wednesday’s air strike, which prompted the PKK to issue a call for an “uprising.”

Turkey’s military command said it carried out the air strike after a spy drone spotted a group moving toward its sensitive southeastern border under cover of darkness late Wednesday, in an area known to be used by militants.

But Erdogan admitted Friday that the victims were smugglers and not separatist rebels as the army had originally claimed.

The PKK, which took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives, is labelled a terrorist outfit by Ankara and much of the international community.