Turkish security forces launched dawn assaults Tuesday against extreme left inmates in Istanbul's Bayrampasa prison and other compounds across the country in a bid to crush a two-month-old hunger strike protest over proposed prison reforms.
Some 200 police were seen storming the Istanbul prison at 5:15 am (03:15 GMT) and some shots were heard from inside the compound, as security forces in military vehicles sealed off an area around the building.
NTV television and the Anatolia news agency said similar operations were also underway at other prisons housing hunger strikers, including Umraniye prison in Istanbul's Asian quarter, Ulucanlar prison in the capital Ankara, at the town of Bursa in the northwest, Ceyhan in the south and Aydin and Usak in the west.
A pillar of smoke could be seen emerging from Umraniye prison, where some 40 prisoners were protesting.
At Ulucanlar prison, two female detainees were transferred to hospital, NTV added.
There were no immediate reports of whether the operation had resulted in any casualties.
Over 200 prisoners have been on a hunger strike in 12 prisons across Turkey for 61 days to protest living arrangements in new jails where the present compounds housing up to 60 people will be replaced with cells for three inmates.
Some 300 other prisoners and their relatives have also been on a hunger strike, taking only small amounts of water and sugar.
Istanbul's Bayrampasa prison, situated in Istanbul's European quarter, has been at the center of the protests.
The hunger strikers, mainly from the extreme left, argue that the prison reform is aimed at isolating inmates but Ankara has said that the changes do not amount to solitary confinement.
Turkey's justice minister reassured inmates on Sunday that the controversial prison reform plan had been postponed, in an effort to avert the deaths of prisoners on hunger strikes in jails across the country.
Turk asserted Sunday that the prison reform "will be re-evaluated in line with contemporary universal standards" through dialogue with professional associations.
The new jails will not be opened until legal amendments are passed to allow inmates to associate in recreational areas and to introduce civil supervision in prisons, he added.
"But there is absolutely no possibility of a return to the dormitory system," the minister stressed.
However prisoners had dismissed the assurance as "insufficient."
Mediation efforts by human rights groups and intellectuals with the Bayrampasa inmates have also failed to persuade the inmates to end their protest.
Ankara maintains that the overcrowded dormitories are the main reason behind the lax security in Turkish jails, which has opened the door for frequent riots and subsequent, often deadly, crackdowns by security forces -- ISTANBUL (AFP)
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