Risk of death close for Turkish hunger strike: doctors

Thu Nov 1, 2012 12:02pm EDT
 

By Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Jailed Kurdish militants on hunger strike in Turkey may start to die within the next 10 days, Turkey's main medical association warned on Thursday, saying the prime minister's dismissal of the protest as a "show" risked hardening their resolve.

The hunger strike entered its 51st day on Thursday, with some 700 prisoners refusing food in dozens of prisons across Turkey, demanding the government grant greater Kurdish minority rights and better conditions for their jailed leader.

But the inmates are consuming sugar, water and vitamins that would prolong their lives and the protest by weeks.

The main demand of the protesters, mostly convicted members of the armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, is improved jail conditions for PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned on an island in the Marmara Sea south of Istanbul.

The protests follow a surge in violence between Turkey and the PKK, which took up arms 28 years ago to try to carve out a Kurdish homeland in Turkey's southeast and which is designated a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and European Union.

"Our worry is that after around 40 days lasting damage begins to emerge and after 60 days deaths may begin," Ozdemir Aktan, head of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), which represents 80 percent of the nation's doctors, told Reuters.

Dozens of leftist prisoners died in a hunger strike more than a decade ago, but Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has played down the latest action, saying only one prisoner was on a "death fast" and was being monitored medically.

"Currently there is no such thing as a hunger strike. This is a complete show," he told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday.   Continued...

 
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the audience after receiving his honorary doctorate degree from Yildiz Technical University in Istanbul October 5, 2012. REUTERS/Osman Orsal