Fifteen inmates died and two paramilitary forces were killed Tuesday in a crackdown on 20 Turkish jails to end a two-month hunger strike over a controversial prison reform, Turkey's justice minister said.
"Fifteen inmates lost their lives, most of them after setting themselves ablaze," Hikmet Sami Turk told reporters here.
"Two soldiers were killed and three others injured," he added.
Turk said 57 inmates were injured in the operations, also mainly due to self-immolation.
The operations, which started early Tuesday, were continuing in two prisons.
Turk said 575 hunger strikers were "rescued" and put in hospital.
More than 200 inmates, mostly from the extreme left, have been on a "death fast" for 61 days to protest against new jails where cells for three people at most will replace present dormitories, which house 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.
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) -- just back from a visit to Turkey -- was Tuesday weighing a new trip to the country in view of deadly clashes in prisons there.
The CPT, whose first attempt to mediate the crisis failed when it was in Turkey from December 10 to 15, said in a statement it "may decide to return to Turkey, in order to pursue issues related to" conditions in the prisons.
It said it was "currently seeking detailed information concerning" the intervention of Turkish security forces Tuesday in prisons where hunger strikes were taking place.
The crackdown, which killed at least 15 prisoners and two paramilitaries, was continuing late Tuesday in several prisons.
Inmates have been on hunger strike for two months over plans by Turkish authorities to move them from dormitory-style housing -- for up to 60 prisoners -- to smaller cells of three prisoners each.
More than 200 prisoners, mainly from the extreme left, went on strike in October fearing the new living arrangements -- called F-type -- would isolate them and lead to maltreatment.
About 1000 other prisoners in over 40 jails had been taking only limited sugar and water in solidarity with their striking colleagues.
Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly President Lord Russell-Johnston expressed his concern Tuesday over the intervention by Turkish authorities.
"I regret the loss of human lives and call for restraint and moderation ... I would insist ... that the reform -- and the way it is implemented -- should correspond to Council of Europe standards in this area," Russell-Johnston said in a statement.
CPT president Silvia Casale led the delegation that traveled to Turkey to find a solution, where it met with Turkish authorities, parliamentarians, and prisoner representatives during a five day period.
On December 15, in a last-ditch effort, the CPT delegation met with prisoner representatives and members of a mediation team, but could not "identify a means of bringing the hunger strikes to an end," the statement said.
The delegation left Turkey shortly thereafter, but was now considering a return to the country.
The changes were ironically based on a report by the CPT, which deplored the current dormitory system.
Ankara rejects the claim and maintains that the over-crowded dormitories are the main reason for the frequent riots in its jails.
Late on Tuesday, authorities began moving prisoners to the new jails, in spite of an official guarantee in early December that the prisons would not open until there was agreement on moving to the facilities -- ANKARA (AFP)
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