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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 June, 2005, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Syrian-Kurdish cleric found dead
Burnt out car in Syrian town of Qameshli
Unrest gripped Kurdish areas of Syria in March 2004
A popular Kurdish cleric has been found dead in eastern Syria three weeks after he went missing in Damascus.

A spokesman for the Yakiti Party said Sheikh Muhammad al-Khaznawi's sons had been called to a hospital in Deir al-Zour to identify the cleric's body.

The sons said there were signs on his body that he had been tortured, the spokesman told the BBC.

The banned Yakiti Party is blaming the government for his death and is calling for an official investigation.

The Syrian authorities say several suspected abductors have been arrested and have confessed, the official Syrian news agency reports.

"The results of the investigation confirm that the murder was purely criminal and that Sheikh Khaznawi had not been arrested by any security body as some sources and ill-intentioned media said," the agency quoted an official as saying.

Correspondents say the sheikh was widely popular in Syria, and was known for teaching tolerance and the compatibility of Islam and democracy.

Thousands of Kurds have been holding regular demonstrations to demand information from the authorities about the sheikh since his disappearance.

Syrian Kurds - who make up about 10% of the country's 17 million people - complain of discrimination and demand the right to speak their language.

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Country profile: Syria
10 Feb 04 |  Country profiles

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