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Kurdish rebel leader calls end to prison hunger strikes in Turkey: lawyers

Ocalan said the hunger strikes had achieved their goal [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 May, 2019

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Abdullah Ocalan called for an end to hunger strikes by thousands of jailed supporters in Turkey protesting the conditions of his detention, his lawyers said on Sunday.
Imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan called for an end to hunger strikes by thousands of jailed supporters in Turkey protesting the conditions of his detention, his lawyers said on Sunday.

"I expect the action to come to an end in light of the broad statements to be made by my two lawyers," Ocalan said in a message read by his lawyer Nevroz Uysal during a press conference in Istanbul.

Ocalan, the co-founder of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) held on Imrali island off Istanbul since 1999, was allowed to see his lawyers this month for the first time in eight years.

The first visit took place on May 2. After Turkish authorities lifted an official ban on lawyers' visits to Ocalan, a second trip by two of his lawyers was made on May 22.

His lawyers said during their visit on May 22, Ocalan said the hunger strikes "had achieved their goal" and was insistent in his call for the action to end.

"We believe the hunger strikers will end their action after this," the lawyers added.

Some 3,000 prisoners across different prisons were on hunger strike, the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) has said, in solidarity with one of the party's lawmakers who launched the action in November.

MP Leyla Guven was in custody when she went on hunger strike to protest Ocalan's isolation from his family and lawyers but she was later released. Other detainees then followed suit.

Eight people also killed themselves over the issue, according to the HDP.

Ocalan's PKK, blacklisted by Ankara and its Western allies as a terror group, has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

Despite his almost complete isolation, Ocalan is still a key figure of the Kurdish insurgency and the movement generally in the region.

Turkey identifies the YPG, a Kurdish militia that controls large swathes of northern Syria and collaborated with the US to battle the Islamic State group, as an offshoot of the PKK.

The decision to allow lawyer visits for Ocalan - certainly controversial among many Turks - could be tied to an upcoming controversial re-run of the Istanbul mayoral election, analysts say.

While the initial election was lost by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party, subsequent complaints by the party led to the country's official electoral authority declaring the cancellation of the vote and its subsequent re-run.

Analysts say Kurdish votes played a role in defeating Erdogan's party - the HDP did not field a candidate in Istanbul - and that allowing Ocalan visits could be a sign the government is trying to win over Kurdish voters.

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