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Mass protests at repression

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Issue 1726

Hunger strike in Turkey

Mass protests at repression

By Kevin Ovenden

OVER 130 political prisoners in Turkey were nearing death as they continued their hunger strike at the beginning of this week. They have been refusing food for over six weeks in protest at attempts by Turkey’s right wing government to introduce more repressive jails in what is one of the most brutal prison systems in the world.

The prisoners are members of left wing political organisations such as the DHKP-C and TKP (ML). Despite enormous suffering the prisoners have decided to continue with their hunger strike. Other prisoners and their relatives have joined them. That is testimony to the appalling conditions political prisoners face in Turkey.

Police beat to death ten inmates of Ulucanlar jail in Ankara when they crushed a protest against forced prison transfers last year. The Turkish government now wants to replace prison dormitories with individual cells.

Amnesty International and the Turkish government’s own human rights monitors have documented how isolated prisoners are much more likely to suffer abuse by guards than those kept in shared cells. The government’s new prison policy is part of moves to clamp down on the left in Turkey.

The National Action Party is in the governing coalition. It was the leading fascist force in the 1970s, organising street gangs to murder socialists and trade unionists. The core of the party retains its fascist roots. The government is pushing through an “amnesty” which will see many fascists and mafia thugs released from prison but leave left wingers inside. The National Action Party has insisted that Haluk Kirci is released in the amnesty.

He was finally imprisoned last year for the murder of seven members of the youth wing of the Turkish Workers Party in the 1970s. Police in Turkey have ruthlessly suppressed the protests in solidarity with the prisoners. But a rising wave of workers’ strikes and demonstrations over austerity measures have opened a space over the last two weeks for people to protest over prison conditions too.

Over one million workers struck for 24 hours on Friday of last week. The action, called by six trade union federations, was the biggest strike since the military coup of 1980. It followed a demonstration by 50,000 civil servants three weeks earlier. Even the right wing papers estimated that over half a million workers took to the streets across the country.

Over 70,000 people marched in Istanbul, and 50,000 in each of Izmir and Ankara. Police were unable to stop the marches even in the Kurdish areas which suffer heavy repression. Police, faced with tens of thousands of workers, were unable to intervene as speakers at rallies raised the issue of the political prisoners. The protests were against the effects of the IMF-sponsored “stability plan” imposed by the government.

The workers’ central slogan was “A budget for the people, not for the IMF”. Electricity prices have doubled over the last 12 months. The industry is in private hands.

The 2001 budget means that for every man, woman and child in Turkey 168 will be spent on arms and 257 on interest payments. This compares with 20 on health and 62 on education. Seven banks have collapsed so far this year. Two of them were recently privatised state banks.

The owner of one, Yahya Murat Demirel (nephew of the ex-president of Turkey), was caught carrying suitcases stuffed with cash from one bank the night before it went bust. Workers are paying the bill for this robbery.

The attacks on workers have not been enough for the money markets. Last week the Turkish stock exchange was down to a third of its value at the start of this year, and rates for lending between banks shot up to 1,700 percent. The government and big business fear a deeper explosion of workers’ militancy. That is why they are torturing the prisoners.

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