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Kurd killed in north Syria protest, mood tense

Written by: Staff

DAMASCUS, Nov 4 (Reuters) Security forces killed a Kurdish youth and wounded four other people in northeastern Syria while breaking up a protest against a possible Turkish incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan, witnesses and Kurdish activists said today.

The incident revived the issue of longstanding Kurdish grievances in tightly controlled Syria and evoked painful memories of demonstrations and riots a few years ago that killed 30 people.

Witnesses said Issa Khalil, 24, was among a group of 200 Kurds who gathered in the city of Qamishli on Friday in support of their brethren across the border in Iraq.

The city was the scene of anti-government riots in 2004 that spread to Kurdish areas across Syria.

Machal Jammo, a Kurdish activist, told Reuters police fired bullets and teargas to break up the demonstrations. Protesters responded by throwing stones.

''Syria wants to send a message of support to Turkey. But its hostility to the Kurdish presence in the region risks a repeat of the 2004 anger on a larger scale,'' said Jammo, an official in the Kurdish Future Movement, which advocates democracy and equal rights for Syria's one million Kurdish minority.

Thousands of Kurds turned out for Khalil's funeral in Qamishly yesterday. Witnesses said security forces surrounded the funeral procession but did not interfere.

''We could be looking at more funerals, which is keeping the situation tense. Two of the four with wounds are in serious condition,'' a resident of the city said.

There was no comment from the Syrian authorities. Qamishly is heavily policed and news from the city is slow to filter out.

Police in the northern town of Aleppo prevented an anti-Turkish demonstration last week but there were no casualties, human right activists said.

TIES Turkey has amassed around 100,000 soldiers on its border with Iraqi Kurdistan for a possible attack on PKK separatists who have launched strikes against Turkish forces.

Baghdad has sought to calm Turkey, saying it is prepared to pursue guerrilla leaders responsible for raids into Turkey to avert an invasion.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad expressed support for Turkey's policy toward the PKK on a visit to Ankara last month, although Information Minister Mohsen Bilal later said Assad did not back a Turkish attack on Iraq.

Relations between Ankara and Damascus improved sharply in recent years as Kurdish power has risen in Iraq. In an interview with al-Jazeera television, Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani described Syria's position toward Iraqi Kurdistan as ''negative''.

Syria's overtures toward Turkey have not gone down well with Syria's own Kurdish minority which includes thousands of disenfranchised Kurds without passports or official documents to own property or use government services.

Under Turkish pressure, Syria has cracked down on the PKK. A security court handed several PKK members long sentences last year in trials criticised by human rights groups as illegitimate.

Syria banned the PKK after a confrontation with Turkey in 1998 over the group's activities. The two countries came close to a military conflict before Damascus met Turkey's request to expel PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who was later arrested and jailed by Turkey.


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