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Thousands join protest in support for Turkey hunger strikes against prison conditions of Kurdish militant leader

A peddlar spreads a T-shirt bearing the image of Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Istanbul, Turkey Feb 03, 2019, 06.13 PM (IST)

Thousands of protesters Sunday joined a rally in Istanbul called by a pro-Kurdish party to show support for hunger strikes against prison conditions of Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan.

The protesters gathered at a square in Bakirkoy on the European side of Istanbul, with police tightening security measures.

"I am saluting my friends resisting in prisons. They are our honour, they are not alone," Fahit Ulas, a supporter of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP).

"If needed we will sacrifice our bodies for this cause. We have no fear," he added.

Some 250 prisoners all over Turkey have launched hunger strikes in support of HDP lawmaker Leyla Guven, who wants to pressure the Turkish government to allow Ocalan to hold regular meetings with his lawyers and family members.

Ocalan, one of the founders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), has been serving a life sentence on a prison island off Istanbul since his 1999 capture.

The 55-year-old Guven was jailed in January 2018 for her criticism of Turkey's military operation against a Syrian Kurdish militia.

Last week, a Turkish court in Kurdish majority city Diyarbakir freed her under judicial supervision. Guven, who entered the 88th day of her hunger strike on Sunday, launched the protest move on November 8 while in jail.

She told AFP in an interview on Wednesday that she would press on with the hunger strike at home.

Garo Paylan, an HDP MP who joined the Istanbul protest, said choosing a hunger strike was a "last remedy," hoping Guven's demand would be met as soon as possible.

"We want this demand to be fulfilled before any death," he told AFP.

In 2012, hundreds of Kurdish prisoners ended a 68-day hunger strike after Ocalan urged them to do so. 

The HDP party remains under the scrutiny of Turkish authorities, which accuse it of links to the PKK. Several of its MPs are behind bars, including former party leader Selahattin Demirtas.