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Press Review: Prisoner Hunger Strike in Turkey Spills Over

By Don Hill and Michael Jeffress

Prague, July 25 (RFE/RL) -- Unrest in and around Turkey involves ethnic Kurds and the Turkish majority, Islamic theocrats and secularists, and leftists and right-wingers. A flurry of recent Western press commentary examines aspects of Turkey's situation.

For the last nine weeks, a hunger strike--nominally protesting notoriously inhuman conditons in Turkish prisons but also involving a political agenda--has gripped 33 Turkish jails. The disquiet also involves Turkey's neighbors--Germany, where about two million Turks live; Syria, whom Turkey accuses of harboring Kurdish rebels; Greece, a traditional enemy; Israel, a strategic ally; and the United States, inextricably involved with Israel.

FRANKFURTER ALLEGMEINE ZEITUNG: Western nations cannot ignore prisoner protest

In an editorial, the paper says: "When more than 100 prisoners risk their lives in a NATO country, in order to protest the methods of criminal justice, then their Western partners cannot simply turn their heads and ignore it. . . . The accusations of international human rights organizations can no longer be ignored. The outside world is little informed about the atrocities in Turkey, where the ideal of free speech is limited. . . . Nobody in the West agrees with Turkey's handling of its battle with terrorists. The most eastern of NATO countries is searching for a connection in Europe and strays from the path again and again."


Times Writer Alan Cowell says in today's Tribune: "German authorities expressed concern (yesterday) that a sudden rash of firebombings of Turkish-owned properties might be the result of a spillover protest by leftish Turks supporting hunger strikers in their own country. . . . Around two million Turks live in Germany and the tensions among them often mirror those between ethnic Kurds and Turks and between religious, secularist, leftists and other Turks."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The strike is successful, and is becoming political

Wolfgang Koydl wrote this week: "Conditions in Turkish jails are almost indescribably inhumane. Again and again prisoners protest against brutal maltreatment, insufficient food and the humiliations to which they and their relatives are subjected. The hunger strike of 216 prisoners that has now been in progress for nine weeks is the most recent and most spectacular attempt to have these conditions improved. And in fact the strike has been successful. For the new fundamentalist justice minister, Sevket Kazan, did away with a plethora of repressive measures introduced by his conservative predecessor as soon as he took office. Nonetheless, the hunger strike is continuing and. . . there is a second batch of--political--demands."

THE ATLANTA JOURNAL AND CONSTITUTION: A Turkish-Syrian dispute could be a flash point

Louis J. Salome writes today: "Incursions (into Turkey from Syria) by the Marxist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) became so numerous in recent months that Turkish artillery blasted a Syrian observation post near Yayladagi and Turkish troops pursued rocket-firing PKK guerrillas back into Syria. The cross-border skirmishing has been accompanied by an alarming buildup along the border of Turkish and Syrian military forces and unusual Turkish naval exercises off Syria's Mediterranean coast. . . . While no one is predicting an armed conflict is imminent, the Syrian-Turkish dispute is a potential flash point that could destabilize the entire region and quickly involve the United States, which is a NATO ally of Turkey, and Israel. The tensions have brought into focus Turkey's expanding strategic ties with Israel, which have been encouraged by the United States but are creating concern not only in Damascus but also in other Arab capitals and in Greece, Turkey's longtime Balkan nemesis."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: A third prisoner starves as the conflict continues

Von Gunnar Koehne writes today: "After the starvation of the third prisoner of war (yesterday), there was still no sign of an end to the conflict between the Turkish government and hunger-striking political prisoners. . . . The POWs protest against their mishandling and removal to secluded prisons, and for integration with larger groups of prisoners. . . . Pressure on the government in Ankara continues. Authors Orhan Pamuk and Yasar Kemal, musician Z�lf� Livanelli, and Akin Birdal, president of the human rights organization, IHD, describe clearly the Turkish prisons--'They are hell.'"