Kurds gather for festival in southeast Turkey under tight security

Reuters News
|
Posted: Mar 21, 2016 6:09 AM

By Seyhmus Cakan

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Thousands of Kurds gathered for the Newroz spring festival in Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey on Monday under tight security after months of fighting between security forces and Kurdish separatists, and a series of bombings in Istanbul and Ankara.

The armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) attracts wide support among those attending the event, and lines of police searched people entering the festival area on the outskirts of the biggest city in mostly Kurdish southeast Turkey.

Nevertheless, some revelers waved PKK flags and posters showing its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, while others chanted "We will win by resisting!" "Long live Ocalan!" and "The PKK are the people, the PKK are here!" as music blared over the sound system.

In a statement read out at last year's festival, Ocalan said the PKK's three-decade-old insurgency had become "unsustainable" and urged it to hold a congress on laying down its weapons.

But shortly afterwards, a 2-1/2-year-old PKK ceasefire collapsed along with peace talks. Since then, fighting has become more intense than at any time since the 1990s, and hundreds have been killed across the southeast.

On Monday, authorities lifted a curfew to allow the Newroz celebration to take place in Diyarbakir's Kaynartepe neighborhood, but imposed tight security across the city, with police searching vehicles and checking identities in hotels and cafes.

Security fears have also been heightened by the deaths of more than 80 people in bombings in Ankara and Istanbul this year. Some were carried out by Kurdish militants with links to the PKK, although a bombing that killed four people in Istanbul on Saturday was the work of Islamic State, Interior Minister Efkan Ala said on Sunday.

He said 200,000 security force members would be maintaining security across the country over Newroz, also celebrated across Iran and central Asia, and that celebrations had been banned in much of Turkey but allowed in 18 provinces.

More than 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK launched its insurgency in 1984. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Kevin Liffey)