ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannons in Istanbul on Sunday to disperse hundreds of protesters calling for an end to curfews in the southeast, where the military has ramped up operations against Kurdish militants.
Some of the protesters threw firebombs at security forces, who responded with tear gas. A water cannon truck raced up and down Istiklal Street, a bustling commercial artery, firing short bursts at the protesters.
Protesters and stunned tourists used lemons and soft drinks to neutralize the effects of the tear gas. Riot police chased protesters down small side streets and made arrests as helicopters flew overhead. Witnesses said stone-throwing teens clashed with police in the adjacent neighborhood of Tarlabasi, a hub for Kurdish immigrants from southeastern Turkey.
In Diyarbakir, the symbolic capital of the Kurdish heartland in Turkey, residents reported violent clashes between the youth wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and police in the district of Sur. Clashes were also reported in Cizre, Nusaybin and Silopi, according to Kurdish activists.
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Turkey has stepped up security operations in the mainly Kurdish towns of Silope and Cizre, both under curfew since Dec. 14. About 10,000 troops backed by tanks have been deployed, according to local media.
The Turkish military reported a soldier wounded on Saturday had succumbed to his wounds and vowed to continue operations “until public security is established.” The military also reported the death of 11 PKK militants, pushing the total count of “terrorists” killed to 80. Turkey, which considers the PKK a terrorist organization, has vowed to “cleanse” the country of the rebels.
Nearly 2,000 people have been killed since an informal two-year cease-fire between Turkey and the PKK collapsed in July. The three-decade conflict between Turkish security forces and the PKK rebels have claimed the lives of more than 30,000 people.