Militant leader Ocalan calls for end to Turkey hunger strike

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey Sat Nov 17, 2012 3:22pm EST

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DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan has called for an end to a hunger strike by hundreds of his supporters in prisons across Turkey, according to a statement issued by his brother on Saturday.

The hunger strike, demanding an end to Ocalan's isolation, is stretching into its third month and medics have warned that some prisoners could soon die. The action has presented a growing challenge for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and risked fuelling tension in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast.

"Today I went to see my brother Abdullah Ocalan face-to-face in Imrali prison," the statement said.

"He wants me to share immediately with the public his call about the hunger strikes ... This action has achieved its goal. Without any hesitation, they should end the hunger strike."

Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy for almost three decades, has been imprisoned on the small island of Imrali in the Marmara Sea since his capture in 1999.

He has significant support among Kurds but is widely reviled by Turks who hold him responsible for the deaths of over 40,000 people since the PKK - designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union - took up arms.

The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), several of whose members joined the action, said its deputies in the city of Diyarbakir - the regional center of the heavily Kurdish southeast - would share Ocalan's call with prisoners there.

"We hope this call will pave the way for the next process, which is to end (Ocalan's) isolation ... The Kurdish problem should be resolved by dialogue and deliberation," BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Seltem Iyigun; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Alison Williams)

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