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The BBC's Chris Morris in Istanbul
"The hunger strike is fast approaching the point of no return"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 5 December, 2000, 23:39 GMT
Call to end Turkey 'death fast'
Demonstrators
The new prisons have met resistance on the outside too
The Turkish Government has urged hundreds of prisoners who have been on hunger strike for more than six weeks to give up their protest.

Human rights groups have warned that some hunger strikers could die this week if they continue.

Bulent Ecevit
Mr Ecevit made a TV appeal to the protesters
About 180 prisoners are taking part in the full "death fast", while another 171 are taking small quantities of water with sugar.

The prisoners, who are members of banned left wing groups, are protesting against a proposed move to modern maximum security jails which they say will isolate them and put them at risk of police brutality.

But the government says that the new prisons meet European standards and will prevent prisoners organising unrest.

Government stands firm

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit made an appeal to the hunger strikers on national television, and called on their friends and relatives to intervene in the protest.

New maximum security prison cell
Critics say the new jails will isolate prisoners
"Those who force their friends to die cannot be human," he said.

Mr Ecevit added that the government was committed to the new prisons.

He said that the state could not accept challenges to its authority from the type of uprising or criminal activity which frequently occurred in the old prisons.

The new prisons, however, met inmates' "every need".

Backtracking

But BBC correspondent Chris Morris says that the government is retreating from its original plans to begin the prison transfers before the end of this year.

Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk promised that no inmates would be moved into the new prisons until legal reforms were in place to give them new rights.

He said the reforms would include repeal of a measure which bans inmates convicted of terrorist crimes from seeing each other or meeting visitors face to face.

Another proposed reform would set up independent supervisory boards to inspect prisons, meet inmates and wardens and issue reports on any violations.

But these measures may not be enough to persuade the hunger strikers to abandon their protest.

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See also:

03 Nov 00 | Europe
Turkish prison riot ends
05 Dec 99 | Europe
Islamists riot in Istanbul prison
30 Sep 99 | Europe
Turkish prison uprising ends
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