ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey on Tuesday buried 12 soldiers killed by Kurdish rebels in an outpouring of public grief and anger that unnerved the government and prompted it to ban broadcasts about the deaths.
Funerals, held in towns and cities across the Muslim nation of 75 million, turned into protest rallies with mourners chanting slogans against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is battling Turkish troops near the Iraqi border.
The dead men were mostly conscripts in their early 20s doing their compulsory military service. They were laid to rest in a sea of red and white Turkish flags.
The funerals and other protests have increased pressure on the government to send troops across the border into northern Iraq where an estimated 3,000 rebels are hiding, though Ankara says it still hopes diplomacy will prevail.
As newspapers reported clashes between pro- and anti-PKK students and other sporadic acts of violence, Turkish President Abdullah Gul appealed for public calm and restraint.
“However great the destruction caused by terrorism, the struggle against terrorism can be waged by legal means and only by the state,” Gul said in a statement.
The government, keen to avoid further inflaming public opinion, imposed a ban on all media broadcasts concerning the deaths of the 12 soldiers, whose pictures and life stories have featured prominently in the newspapers.
RTUK, the state body that oversees television and radio in Turkey, said the ban was necessary because broadcasting news about the deaths “hurts the psychology of society and public order and creates an image of the security forces as weak”.
Until the ban, television channels had led news bulletins with footage of grieving wives, mothers, fathers and children.
“ALL TURKS ARE SOLDIERS”
Ankara blames the PKK for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since the group launched its armed campaign for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.
The PKK has recently stepped up attacks, killing about 40 soldiers and other security personnel in the past month alone.
“All Turks are soldiers,” was the defiant chant at a funeral in the western Anatolian town of Eskisehir.
“We will make the PKK pay the price for our martyrs,” the state Anatolian news agency quoted Finance Minister Kemal Unakitan as telling the mourners.
The small Democratic Society Party (DTP), which campaigns for more Kurdish political and cultural rights, has complained of attacks on its offices since Sunday’s deaths.
Most Turks view the DTP as a mouthpiece for the rebels, though the party insists it does not support violence and has called for a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue.
Some 300 Turkish students clashed with PKK supporters on a university campus in the Aegean city of Izmir, newspapers said.
The home of a Kurdish family was burnt down in the western city of Bursa, the leftist Evrensel daily reported. The windows of another Kurdish home were smashed, it said.
Additional reporting by Selcuk Gokoluk, Umit Bektas and Inci Ozturk
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