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Turkish police clashed with Kurdish protesters and arrested at least 15 people demonstrating to mark the 10th anniversary on Sunday of the capture of separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Five protesters and two police officers were hurt in the illegal protests in towns across Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast, according to local hospitals.

Protesters in Diyarbakir, the southeast's largest city, threw rocks at armored police vehicles and police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse a crowd of about 2,500 people that had gathered outside the headquarters of the Democratic Society Party (DTP), the only legal Kurdish political grouping.

Diyarbakir Mayor Osman Baydemir and lawmaker Aysel Tugluk, both DTP members, were present at the demonstration but police barred them from addressing the crowd.

Smaller protests were staged in towns across the southeast. In Sirnak, protesters throw Molotov cocktails at police, and authorities in Semdinli near the Iraqi border set up roadblocks to prevent demonstrations, witnesses said.

Ocalan, who founded the armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in 1978, was apprehended on Feb. 15, 1999, while fleeing the Greek Embassy in Nairobi after a year-long international manhunt that took him from Syria to Russia, Italy, Greece and Kenya. He was sentenced to death later that year for treason, and his sentence was commuted to life in prison in 2002.

The PKK launched a separatist campaign against the Turkish state in 1984 in which 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, have died. The U.S. and European Union call the PKK a terrorist group.

Ocalan, 61, is serving a life sentence in solitary confinement in an island jail off Istanbul. He has dropped his call for an independent Kurdish homeland and now calls for a confederation with some political autonomy for Kurds.

The DTP, the first pro-Kurdish party to enter parliament in more than a decade, faces a court ban for alleged ties to the PKK. The party advocates a negotiated settlement with the PKK and an amnesty for some of its leaders.

The EU, which Turkey is seeking to join, has criticized the court case against the DTP, arguing Kurds should have political representation in parliament. Turkey has pledged to boost rights for its estimated 15 million Kurds, or 20 percent of the population, as part of its bid to join the European Union.

Financial Mirror, February 15, 2009 - (Reuters)
|||Turkish police arrest 15 in pro-Ocalan protests
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