Turks Batter Down Prison Walls to End Hunger Strike Protests

Published December 20th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Turkish security forces used earth-moving equipment to demolish walls in a western jail Wednesday, the second day of a deadly crackdown on hunger-striking inmates in scores of jails that Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit described as "terrorist dens" 

The nationwide operation began Tuesday has already claimed at least 19 lives -- 17 inmates and two soldiers. 

The all-news NTV channel showed several walls of a prison in Canakkale city partially demolished, while others had huge holes, with earth-moving machines standing by. 

Paramilitary troops had reportedly entered the building in which inmates had barricaded themselves, but no further details were available. 

Hundreds of prisoners have been on hunger strike for more than two months protesting the reforms, which they claim could expose them to increased repression. 

Turkey wants to put an end to dormitories housing up to 60 inmates, which are insecure and replace them with smaller three-in-a-cell units. 

Elsewhere, earth-moving machines, firefighting vehicles and buses carrying riot police as well as ambulances were seen entering a prison in Umraniye district on Istanbul's Asian side, Anatolia news agency reported. 

The Umraniye and Canakkale jails were the only two that security forces failed to break into Tuesday when hundreds of riot police and paramilitaries stormed 20 prisons across Turkey. The assault aimed to end the hunger strike 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. 

“We think the operations will end today. The security forces are acting with utmost caution," in order to prevent further deaths, he added. 

The European Commission expressed concern Wednesday over the crackdown by Ankara, whose bid for EU membership depends on improving its human rights record and democratic institutions. 

"We are worried," said an EU spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori in Brussels. "We call upon all parties to stop the violence in order to reach a peaceful outcome." 

The human rights watchdog Amnesty International called for an immediate and independent inquiry into the raids, and said anyone held responsible for deaths should be suspended from duty pending its outcome. 

The number of inmate victims rose to 17 Wednesday after a prisoner died in an Ankara hospital from severe burns suffered from self-immolation, Anatolia said. 

Most of the inmates died after setting themselves ablaze in line with orders by outlawed groups they belonged to, Turk said, adding that some 80 prisoners were injured. 

Two soldiers were killed in separate clashes with inmates in Umraniye and Canakkale prisons, while four were wounded. 

Ankara says the strikes and inmates' resistance were orchestrated by outlawed armed groups, mainly from the extreme left, and many strikers were forced to starve. 

"Terrorist dens are being eradicated with these operations," Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said. "Those terrorists must have finally understood that they cannot overwhelm the state." 

More than 200 inmates had been on a "death fast" and some 1,000 others on a limited hunger strike, taking only small amounts of sugar and water, to protest the prison reforms. 

Inmates and critics say the new jails will isolate prisoners and expose them to mistreatment. Ankara maintains that the packed dormitories have led to lax security, enabling inmates to smuggle in weapons and turn compounds into virtual fortresses, undermining state control over prisons. 

The jails have recently seen frequent riots and hostage-taking incidents, which triggered often-deadly crackdowns. 

The Sabah daily on Wednesday quoted Interior Minister Saadettin Tantan as saying that Tuesday's raid on Istanbul's Bayrampasa jail, from where the strikes were directed, was the first time that state authorities managed to enter inmates' compounds since 1991. 

Since Tuesday, some 860 inmates have been either transferred to other jails or put in hospital, where many refused treatment. 

Turkish officials, meanwhile, said some hunger-strikers had been secretly taking pills and vitamins. 

Some inmates, who said they had been fasting to death, turned out to be in good general shape when checked in hospital, Health Minister Osman Durmus said, according to Anatolia. 

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 after Tuesday's crackdown, authorities began transferring hundreds of inmates to three prisons built under the reform -- ANKARA (AFP) 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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