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Sunday, September 26, 1999 Published at 20:43 GMT 21:43 UK

World: Europe

Prison riots sweep Turkey

Police sealed off the road to Ulucanlar prison in Ankara

Prisoners across Turkey ran riot on Sunday after a battle between security forces and prisoners at an Ankara jail left at least 10 inmates dead.

The BBC's Chris Morris reports: "Relatives believe the violence was deliberately provoked by the authorities"
The violence began in Ankara's Ulucanlar prison early on Sunday, when guards tried to enter a prison ward in which radical left-wing prisoners were being held.

Some of the inmates were about to be transferred to other prisons around the country, and the guards had been tipped off that the inmates were planning an escape through a tunnel.

The BBC's Peter Biles: "Eyewitnesses said they heard gunfire"
The Turkish Justice Ministry said in a statement that the prisoners had barricaded themselves inside their ward to thwart the search, fired shots and hurled bombs at the security forces.

[ image: An injured inmate is taken out of Ulucanlar prison]
An injured inmate is taken out of Ulucanlar prison
The security forces fired tear gas before storming the ward. As well as the 10 fatalities, another 18 inmates and five security personnel were injured.

Rioting quickly spread to seven other prisons across the country, where left-wing inmates took at least 90 prison guards hostage, officials said.

At Ulucanlar, the authorities retrieved guns and material used to make bombs, it added. It was not clear if a tunnel was found.

Ankara's Numune hospital said the prisoners had died of gun or stab wounds or from blows to the head and other parts of the body, the semi-official Anatolia news agency reported.

Marxist groups

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit called the riots an intolerable challenge to government control.

The inmates at Ulucanlar, who numbered around 50, were members of Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, and the Turkish Workers Peasants Liberation Army - two of Turkey's most violent underground organizations.

[ image: An ambulance rushes to Ulucanlar prison]
An ambulance rushes to Ulucanlar prison
Both groups want to overthrow the state in a Marxist revolution.

Extreme leftist groups posed a serious challenge to the Turkish state in the late 1970s, taking control of universities and urban districts.

The groups said they were responsible for the killings of several army generals, police officers, government officials and foreigners.

Violent battles with far-right groups led to a military takeover in 1980.

Today, the militants are still capable of staging armed attacks, but are less of a threat to the state.


Inmates from radical political organisations often run their own wards, which they decorate with flags and political posters.

They have long resisted attempts by prison officials to break up the wards by transferring inmates to other prisons.

[ image: Relatives waited outside the prison for news of inmates]
Relatives waited outside the prison for news of inmates
Inmates often use portable telephones to communicate with each other, and they appear to have used them to co-ordinate the latest violence.

Senior officials including Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk were meeting at the Justice Ministry to discuss the crisis.

Last week, seven people died in a gun battle between rival gangs at a prison in Istanbul.

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