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Kurdish protesters warn of further unrest

Written by: Staff

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, Apr 2 (Reuters) Ayse, a mother of six, is ready to support her children if they decide to join Kurdish guerrillas fighting security forces in the mountains of the southeast of Turkey.

For now they are among thousands of Kurds, mostly youths, who joined street protests this week sparked by the funerals of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels killed in clashes with the military.

Eight people, three of them children, have died in five days of clashes with the police -- some of Turkey's worst civil unrest since the PKK took up arms against the state in 1984 -- and protesters warned that distrust of the state could trigger more trouble.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said children were used in the unrest as ''pawns of terrorism'' and warned security forces could not guarantee their safety. But active participants in the unrest denied that militants were orchestrating the youths.

''The PKK hasn't directed the protests but it supports them.

Locals took the initiative, but they were disciplined,'' said Ahmet, a moustachioed 36-year-old, as he sat drinking coffee.

He was among several protesters speaking in an area near to where the trouble began in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the mainly Kurdish region. Fearful of identification they gave assumed names. Their accounts could not be verified.

Ahmet said the violence was also a response to the state's failure to meet PKK demands to release its leader Abdullah Ocalan from jail, grant an amnesty to the rebels and hold talks with the group on resolving the Kurdish problem.

Turkey's southeast suffers high unemployment and many Kurds want political autonomy and more cultural freedoms. They feel the state is hostile to them and express sympathy for the PKK.

The state and most Turks revile the PKK as terrorists. The European Union and United States also regard it as a terrorist group. Youngsters taking part in the protests said they were motivated by sympathy for the rebels. ''Everyone went to show support for the guerrillas. Nobody told the people what to do. Our struggle is in the cities, not the mountains,'' said 19-year-old Mehmet.

''When Erdogan came to the southeast he recognised there was a Kurdish problem, but now he is showing a different face. We want peace but we are prepared to fight for it,'' he said.

Ankara has lifted restrictions on the Kurdish language and culture in EU-linked reforms over the past few years, but critics say it needs to do much more.

EXPLOSION OF ANGER At the same table, Rojat said he helped set up barricades with rubbish bins and paving stones in the impoverished Baglar district to keep out thousands of police who ringed the area.

''This was an explosion of people's anger. We had no weapons but made a few Molotov cocktails. We threw stones to defend ourselves because the police were firing tear gas,'' said the 27-year-old, dressed in a leather jacket and T-shirt.

Economic hardship is seen as a factor in the trouble and many banks and shops were damaged by stone-throwing protesters.

Similar violence has spread to other towns in southeast Turkey.

The conflict between the PKK and the state has killed more than 30,000 people and has mainly consisted in armed clashes in the mountain ranges bordering Iraq and Iran.

As a teenager, Rojat himself had left Diyarbakir to join the PKK after failing to win a university place but was captured and jailed. One of Ayse's sons had also tried to enter the PKK but the rebels sent him back, saying that at 12 he was too young.

Her family came to Diyarbakir a decade ago after soldiers burned down their village home, she said. Since then she has spent several months in jail for spreading PKK propaganda and has been detained repeatedly for joining pro-rebel protests.

On Tuesday, she went to the PKK funerals with her children and said she cried because she knew one of the dead rebels.

''I would support my children if they wanted to go into the mountains. There are no opportunities to work or study here. If they stay they may just end up as criminals or glue-sniffers.''


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