Kurdish leader Ocalan's call ends jail hunger strikes in Turkey

MPs and prison inmates terminate their hunger strikes after imprisoned fighter leader Ocalan asks them to do so.

    A demonstrator holds a portrait of Ocalan during a solidarity march in Diyarbakir, Turkey [File: Reuters]
    A demonstrator holds a portrait of Ocalan during a solidarity march in Diyarbakir, Turkey [File: Reuters]

    A months-long hunger strike carried out by thousands of Kurdish inmates and several MPs against the solitary confinement of the leader of an outlawed fighter group in Turkey has ended, pro-Kurdish MPs said on Sunday.

    Earlier in the day, imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan called for an end to the strikes by, his lawyers said.

    Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) MP Leyla Guven began a hunger strike in November in a bid to end Ocalan's years of isolation by securing him regular access to his family and lawyers.

    "Comrades who have committed themselves to hunger strikes and death fasts, I expect you to end your protest," Ocalan said in a statement read out by one of his lawyers in Istanbul, four days after they visited him for the second time this month.

    "I expect the action to come to an end in light of the broad statements to be made by my two lawyers," Ocalan said added.

    Ocalan, the co-founder of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), was allowed to see his lawyers this month for the first time in eight years.

    Thousands joined strike

    About 3,000 Kurdish prisoners have been holding hunger strikes since November to protest against Ocalan's isolation and demand improved conditions for him, and eight have killed themselves over the issue, according to the HDP.

    Earlier this month, lawyer Nevroz Uysal

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    said the imprisoned leader wanted the hunger strikers to limit their protests.

    "We respect the resistance of our friends inside and outside prisons but want them not to carry this to a dimension that will threaten their health or result in death," Uysal quoted Ocalan as saying.

    Turkey captured Ocalan, then public enemy number one, in February 1999 and imprisoned him on the heavily fortified island of Imrali off Istanbul where he has been kept for 20 years.

    The PKK is blacklisted as a "terrorist" group by Ankara, NATO, the United States, the United Kingdom and other Western allies. The conflict has claimed more than 40,000 lives since 1984.

    President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hardened his rhetoric towards Kurdish rebels since the last ceasefire broke down in 2015, reducing the odds of a political solution to the long-running conflict.

    Ocalan's brother, Mehmet, was permitted to visit him in prison in January for the first time since 2016.

    Ocalan had been sentenced to death for treason after his capture by Turkish agents in Kenya, but this was commuted to life imprisonment when Turkey abolished capital punishment in 2002 at a time when it appeared close to securing membership of the European Union.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies