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Inmates Seize Prisons as Hunger Strike Continues

July 24, 1996

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) _ Inmates seized control of three major prisons Tuesday as a hunger strike by more than 1,900 inmates across the country claimed the life of a second prisoner, the government said.

Justice Minister Sevket Kazan told Parliament that authorities were unable to force-feed the inmates in critical condition because other inmates would not allow prison workers to enter the wards.

``We are not in control of these prisons,″ Kazan said.

Two of the prisons are in Istanbul. The third is in Izmir on the Aegean Sea.

Health Minister Yildirim Aktuna said the government was concerned about riots or clashes with inmates if it tried to overtake the prisons.

``I don’t support forced entry,″ Aktuna said.

Inmates in 33 prisons have been on hunger strike for the past two months to protest prison conditions. They are refusing to eat solid food. About 200 of them are refusing even sugared water.

The first inmate died Sunday. The second was Altan Berdan Kerimgiller, 28, who was awaiting trial in Istanbul’s Bayrampasa prison on charges of murder and membership in an outlawed leftist group, the independent Human Rights Association said.

Ali Dizdar, a lawyer who visited the striking inmates at Bayrampasa, said 11 there were in critical condition.

Kerimgiller’s death sparked a second day of protests in low-income neighborhoods and some foreign criticism. Hundreds of demonstrators clashed with soldiers in Istanbul and 50 protesters were detained, the Turkish news agency Anatolia said.

``Improving detention conditions in Turkey is a necessary element of the human rights situation in general,″ said Jacques Rummelhardt, France’s foreign ministry spokesman in Paris.

The hunger strikes began after the previous government transferred prisoners to remote parts of the country, canceled visiting rights for political prisoners and otherwise cracked down.

The strikers demand an end to the transfers and to what they say is harassment and torture. They also allege they are usually denied prompt treatment during illness.

Two weeks ago, Turkey’s new pro-Islamic government eased some of the recent restrictions, including scaling back transfers and reinstating visitation rights. Justice Minister Kazan said he would not yield further.

Parliament debated the hunger deaths Tuesday, with the government blaming the practices of previous administrations. The Cabinet was to meet Wednesday to discuss the problem.

``We just cannot watch these people die. We have to do something about it,″ Aktuna said.

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