Leftist rebels in two Turkish prisons were still holding off security forces Thursday, two days after at least 19 of their comrades died during a massive raid launched to end a hunger strike, Anatolia news agency reported.
As international condemnation of the operation mounted, Turkish paramilitaries were battling to get to almost 600 inmates holed up behind barricades at Istanbul's Umraniye jail and another at Canakkale.
Anatolia said shots were heard at both prisons overnight and that a cloud of thick smoke was hanging over Umraniye.
Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk said late Wednesday that 158 inmates at Canakkale and 423 in Umraniye were refusing to give themselves up and that they had been making flame-throwers out of gas bottles and petrol bombs.
Security forces launched nationwide dawn raids on 20 jails Tuesday to end a two-month-long hunger strike by nearly 300 inmates over new jails.
The inmates, fearing mistreatment by prison warders, refuse to be confined two or three to a cell in the new jails, but prefer the current system where they are housed together in up to 60 per dormitory.
A non-governmental medical organization told AFP that all the prisoners the government claims to have rescued were refusing medical aid, and Turkish Health Minister Osman Durmus ordered doctors on Tuesday to proceed with force-feeding "rescued" protestors if necessary.
"The death fasts have not ended," said Kadriye Soguksu of the Turkish Union of Doctors (TTB).
The striking prisoners have also signed papers stating that they do not want treatment even if they fall unconscious, Soguksu said.
"Doctors are left in a quandary: are they to do their duty of saving someone's life or are they to abide by the free will of a prisoner," she said.
"The prisoners who have been fasting for more than 60 days have entered a very critical period where their situation can deteriorate very rapidly and lead to sudden death," Soguksu explained.
The European Commission meanwhile expressed concern at the crackdown, even as EU ministers approved a 135 million Euro (122 million dollar) grant to Ankara for projects that include "the defense and promotion of human rights."
"We are worried," admitted Jean-Christophe Filori, spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen.
"We call upon all parties to stop the violence in order to reach a peaceful outcome," he said -- ANKARA (AFP)
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