A gang of about 20 protesters stormed the court building, shouting slogans in support of jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence for treason in an isolated island prison.

  

Brief scuffles broke out between police and the Kurds, who are now all in custody, while television footage showed riot police in helmets and bullet-proof jackets dragging the protesters out of the building.

  

The incident occurred just after Turkey was rocked by twin bomb attacks on Istanbul synagogues on Saturday that killed 25 people, mostly Turkish Muslims, and injured 300 more.

 

Increased security

  

Security has been stepped up at many sites across the country following the bombings, which Turkish leaders suggest could be linked to Usama bin Ladin's al-Qaida network.

 

"Turkey has long called for cooperation and a joint stance against terrorism"

Cemil Cicek,
justice minister

The court protesters were said to be supporters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which fought a bloody struggle against Turkey for Kurdish self-rule until September 1999 when it declared a unilateral ceasefire.

  

The PKK reformed a year ago as the Turkish Congress for Democracy and Freedom in Kurdistan (KADEK), which recently announced it was disbanding, but Turkey regards the rebels as "terrorists".

 

Tuesday's demonstrators carried a large banner calling for a "democratic solution to the Kurdish problem" and for the closure of the island prison of Imrali where Ocalan is the only inmate.

 

Bloody conflict

  

Turkey holds the PKK responsible for the death of about 36,500 people, many of them rebels, killed in fighting since 1984 when the group took up arms for self-rule in the country's mainly Kurdish southeast.

  

In the wake of the Istanbul attacks, Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Cicek on Monday delivered a tirade against certain unnamed countries he accused of double standards for supporting "terrorists" targeting Turkey - an obvious reference to the Kurdish rebels.

  

"Turkey has long called for cooperation and a joint stance against terrorism... Unfortunately, Turkey has been left alone in its struggle," Cicek said.

  

The rebels are not recognised as "terrorists" in most European Union nations although the United States - a close Turkish ally and fellow NATO member - has put the PKK on its "terrorist" blacklist.