Kurdish MPs, prisoners end hunger strike in Turkey

ISTANBUL: Several Kurdish lawmakers and thousands of prison inmates in Turkey have ended their hunger strike, heeding a call from jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, MPs said on Sunday, 200 days after the protest was launched. The decision removed a source of tension in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey after Ankara let Ocalan meet his lawyers this month for the first time since 2011, triggering speculation about possible fresh efforts to end conflict in the region.
Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Leyla Guven began a hunger strike in November in a bid to end Ocalan’s years of isolation by securing him regular access to his family and lawyers.
“Comrades who have committed themselves to hunger strikes and death fasts, I expect you to end your protest,” Ocalan said in a statement read out by one of his lawyers at a news conference in Istanbul on Sunday morning.
Ocalan has been held in an island prison since Turkish special forces captured him in Kenya in 1999 and is revered among Kurdish HDP supporters who see him as key to any peace process.
On Wednesday, the lawyers visited him for the second time this month. Authorities had repeatedly rejected earlier requests to visit him, citing reasons including ship repairs and poor weather. In Diyarbakir, the southeast’s largest city, a hunger-striking MP announced the end of the protest at a news conference. Hunger strikers’ mothers, wearing white headscarves, applauded and chanted in Kurdish “long live the prison resistance.”
The lawyers’ visits resumed a month before a re-run of the Istanbul mayoral election and prompted speculation of steps towards a new peace process four years after Ankara’s talks with Ocalan on ending conflict in southeast Turkey fell apart. However, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul has denied there is any connection.
Some commentators have suggested the decision to allow lawyers to visit Ocalan could be an attempt to win over Kurdish voters by the AK Party. In March’s Istanbul mayoral election, the HDP supported the opposition candidate who narrowly beat President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party candidate.
Election authorities annulled the vote, citing irregularities. The HDP has indicated it will again support the opposition in the June 23 election re-run. Kurds make up around 15 per cent of Istanbul’s population of more than 15 million and mostly vote for either the pro-Kurdish HDP or the AK Party. — Reuters