DIYARBAKIR Six of Turkey's leading Kurdish politicians have joined hundreds of jailed militants and activists in a hunger strike now in its 60th day to call for a rebel leader to be allowed to see lawyers, one of them said.
Osman Baydemir, mayor of Diyarbakir in predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey, said in a statement on Saturday that he had stopped eating. Five Kurdish members of the Turkish parliament, named as Sirri Sureyya Onder, co-chair of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Gultan Kisanak, Aysel Tugluk, Adil Kurt, Sabahat Tuncer, were also on hunger strike, he said.
Some 700 Kurdish inmates in dozens of prisons are refusing solid food. They want Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government to allow the leader of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned on an island south of Istanbul, to have access to lawyers after 15 months of no contact.
The militants appear to have achieved the aim of being able to speak in their own language in court after the government said it would send a bill to parliament on the matter. Most of the inmates are either convicted PKK members or accused of links to the group.
The hunger strikers are consuming sugared water and vitamins that will prolong their lives and the protest by weeks, but Turkey's main medical association has warned fatalities are possible from around 60 days without food.
EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule raised concerns about reports that the health of the prisoners was deteriorating in talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Brussels on Wednesday.
Erdogan's government has boosted Kurdish cultural and language rights since taking power a decade ago, but Kurdish politicians are seeking greater concessions, including steps towards autonomy for mainly Kurdish southeastern Turkey.
Turkey's Kurds number around 15 million, or around one fifth of population.
The PKK, which wants an independent Kurdish state, has staged some of its bloodiest attacks in more than a decade this year as tensions grow between Turkey and its neighbor Syria, which Ankara has accused of arming the separatists.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK, designated a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.
(Reporting by Seyhmus Cakan, Writing by Daren Butler and Seda Sezer; editing by Jason Webb)