DIYARBAKIR, Turkey,(Reuters) – Six people have been killed so far in days of clashes between Kurdish protesters and police in Diyarbakir, the main town of Turkey’s troubled southeast, its mayor said on Friday.
An eight-year-old child died overnight in hospital. A man and a child were shot dead on Wednesday and a second man was crushed under a police armoured car. It was not immediately clear when or how the other two people died.
“Six people have died, 200 people are wounded,” Mayor Osman Baydemir told a news conference amid the worst social unrest in the impoverished region in decades.
Daily running battles between thousands of stone-throwing youths and riot police armed with teargas and guns have turned Diyarbakir, a city of nearly one million people on the river Tigris, into a battle zone.
The clashes first erupted on Tuesday after funeral ceremonies for 14 members of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) killed by troops last weekend.
Many shops, banks and other buildings have been badly damaged. Cars and trucks have been torched.
Turkish television said many shops and offices had reopened on Friday, but witnesses reported renewed clashes between protesters and police in at least one district of the city.
CNN Turk television said on its Web site that small protests had also erupted overnight in a district of Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city. Istanbul is far from the southeast but is home to a large Kurdish population.
Political analysts say they reflect local anger over high unemployment, poverty and Ankara’s refusal to grant more autonomy to the mainly Kurdish region.
The state Anatolian news agency said police had arrested 48 people so far after detaining more than 200.
Police spokesman Ismail Caliskan told a news conference in the Turkish capital Ankara that the PKK was behind the violence.
“But our security forces have prevented the incidents from becoming bigger by behaving sensibly. Nothing can be gained by violence. The rioters’ actions will also prevent democratisation in the region,” Caliskan said.
Ankara regards the PKK as a terrorist group responsible for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since it launched its armed campaign for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984. But many Kurds view the PKK sympathetically.
Mayor Baydemir, viewed with suspicion in Ankara as a Kurdish separatist, said the government should try to understand the causes of the Kurdish protesters’ anger.
“(Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan) should come and share the pain of our families… Our city has never witnessed such prolonged social anger,” Baydemir said.
State prosecutors have begun an investigation of comments by Baydemir they believe may have helped incite the rioters.
Erdogan has appealed for calm and denied opposition claims that the government has lost control of the situation.
“Our people should feel at peace, they will be safe. Security forces will do what is necessary,” he said on Thursday evening after returning to Ankara from a foreign trip.