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Turkish police block group visiting grave of jailed PKK member

By Reuters - Mar 18,2019 - Last updated at Mar 18,2019

Turkish anti-riot police officers detain a protester during Kurdish activist Zulkuf Gezen funeral in the Turkish city of Diyarbakir on Monday (AFP photo)

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey —  Turkish police fired water cannons and detained some members of a group of about 100 that attempted on Monday to visit the grave of a member of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) who died in prison, a Reuters witness said.

The PKK member, Zulkuf Gezen, had been sentenced in 2010 to life in jail for links to a bombing in 2007 that killed one and injured six, according to media reports. He was jailed in the north-western province of Tekirdag where initial findings showed he committed suicide, the local prosecutor's office said. 

The group of people heading to visit Gezen's grave in the south-eastern province of Diyarbakir were blocked by police who fired a water canon on them, according to Reuters footage from the scene. The crowd chanted, "we will win by resisting," before some were detained by police and taken away. 

Police said the group included Sezai Temelli, co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), and other lawmakers from his party. The lawmakers were allowed entrance to the cemetery but not the whole group, police said.

Ten people were detained after security forces called for the group to disperse and some responded by throwing rocks, police added.

The HDP has said hundreds of prisoners in Turkish jails have been on hunger strike to protest the prison isolation of Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the PKK. Gezen was also on hunger strike and committed suicide to protest the isolation, the party said. 

"We invite those in power to act responsibly and realise the request to lift the isolation and the public to be sensitive before a similar pain is experienced," the HDP said on Twitter. 

The PKK, considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, has waged an insurgency in Turkey since the 1980s. Some 40,000 have been killed in the conflict.

Ankara accuses the HDP of ties to the PKK. The HDP denies direct links.

HDP lawmaker Leyla Guven was the first to go on hunger strike. She was released from prison in January after spending a year in custody on charges of terrorism leadership and propaganda for her opposition to Turkey's incursion into northwest Syria's Afrin region. She still faces trial and up to 31 years in jail. 

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