Turks Battle Two Jails on Second Crackdown Day, Death Toll Reaches 18
Turkish paramilitaries were continuing operations Wednesday to penetrate two jails on the second day of a massive crackdown on hundreds of hunger-striking inmates that claimed at least 18 lives.
Earth-moving and drilling machines were brought to one of the jails, in the western city of Canakkale, to open up holes in the walls of the building where the inmates had barricaded themselves in, Anatolia news agency said.
Firefighting vehicles, earth-moving machines and buses carrying riot police were seen entering the second prison, in Umraniye district on Istanbul's Asian side, according to Anatolia.
The Umraniye and Canakkale jails were the only two that could not be penetrated Tuesday when hundreds of riot police and paramilitaries stormed 20 prisons across the country to end a two-month hunger strike against a controversial prison reforms after lengthy mediation efforts failed.
"I appeal once again to inmates to stop this meaningless resistance. It will lead nowhere," Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk said Wednesday.
He said the number of inmates that died during Tuesday's operations had reached 16 with most of them perishing after setting themselves ablaze in line with orders by outlawed groups they belonged to.
The figure stood at 15 on Tuesday evening.
Two soldiers were killed in separate clashes with inmates in Umraniye and Canakkale prisons.
Ankara says the strikes and Tuesday's resistance were orchestrated by outlawed groups, mainly from the extreme left, and many strikers were forced to starve.
Some 860 inmates were either put in hospital or transferred to other jails following the raids.
More than 200 inmates had been on a "fast to the death" to protest against new jails where cells for a maximum of three people will replace present dormitories for up to 60 inmates.
Some 1,000 others have been on a limited hunger strike, taking only small amounts of sugar and water, in support of starving fellow prisoners.
Inmates and critics say the new jails will isolate prisoners and may facilitate maltreatment and torture, while the government insists the reform does not amount to solitary confinement.
Ankara maintains that the overcrowded dormitories are the main reason behind the lax security in Turkish jails, which had enabled inmates to smuggle in weapons and turn many compounds into virtual fortresses.
In recent years, Turkey's jails have seen frequent riots and hostage-taking incidents, which triggered often deadly crackdowns.
In a bid to avert deaths among hunger-strikers, Ankara announced earlier this month that the opening of the new jails had been postponed until a consensus was reached on their design.
But authorities broke their promise after Tuesday's raids and began transferring inmates to prisons built under the reform -- ANKARA (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)