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EU concerned by violence in Turkey

Written by: Staff
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BRUSSELS, Mar 31 (Reuters) The European Union expressed serious concern today over violent clashes which have killed six people, including two children, in southeast Turkey and urged Ankara to improve the rights of Kurds in the region.

Stone-throwing Kurds have been clashing with riot police in Diyarbakir since Tuesday, turning the city of one million people on the River Tigris into a battle zone.

It is the worse violence in the Muslim nation since it began accession talks with the 25-nations European Union last October.

''We are very concerned by the latest tensions in the southeast of Turkey and the violence which have resulted in casualties,'' said Krisztina Nagy, spokeswoman for the EU's Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn.

''We are aware of the serious terrorist problem in the region but it is a much wider problem than just a security issue.'' More than 30,000 people, most of them Kurds, have been killed since the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) took up arms for a Kurdish homeland in Turkey in 1984.

Turkey, the European Union and the United States all see the PKK as a terrorist organisation, but the EU has also repeatedly urged Ankara to grant greater cultural and linguistic rights to its 12 million Kurds. Under pressure, Turkey's government has passed some reforms, but implementation has remained patchy.

Nagy urged the Turkish authorities to address ''urgently'' the lack of economic development and cultural rights in that region.

''The region needs peace, economic development and real exercise of cultural rights for Kurds,'' Nagy said, adding that this was not a new problem and was raised constantly by the European Commission in its talks with Turkey.

Asked whether the EU executive was critical of Turkish police actions, Nagy said she was worried by the whole situation.

The clashes first erupted on Tuesday after funeral ceremonies for 14 PKK rebels killed by troops last weekend.

An eight-year-old child died overnight in hospital. A man and a child were shot dead on Wednesday and a second man was crushed under a police armoured car. It was not immediately clear when or how the other two people died.

Political analysts say the clashes reflect local anger over high unemployment, poverty and Ankara's refusal to grant more autonomy and cultural rights to the mainly Kurdish region.

Police spokesman Ismail Caliskan said the PKK was behind the violence.

REUTERS SY HS1921

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