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Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 14:27 GMT
Explosive mix in Turkey's jails
Soldiers carrying injured inmate
Soldiers stormed 20 prisons across Turkey
By Adrian Foreman, Europe News Editor

The current crisis in Turkey's prisons is a problem that has been brewing for many years.

Much of the country's recent past lies locked up in its prisons.

Inside you will find the left and right wing extremists, who violently clashed 30 years ago, the Kurdish hit-squads, the Islamic militants and the organised criminals.

Living alongside them are the human rights activists, jailed for their beliefs, who are the subjects of international campaigns.

Powerful prisoners have established enclaves which, in effect, they rule.

Recipe for disaster

Turkish prison governors readily admit that there are often parts of their jails which are no-go areas, even for them.

It was already an explosive situation.

The growing internationally backed campaign of complaint at prison conditions, and concerns raised over the kind of political crimes for which people were being put in jail, has simply added to the dangerous mix.

Relatives outside Ulacanlar Prison near Ankara
Relatives anxiously await news

The latest crisis happened when the Turkish authorities, responding in part to international human rights concerns, enacted a number of prison reforms, including moving inmates to smaller cells.

Many inmates said that this would make them more vulnerable to attack from rival groups.

Then as it became clear that hunger-strikers could die, the Turkish authorities felt obliged to intervene.

The authorities have claimed that it was an action aimed at saving lives.

But it was also to restore control.

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See also:

05 Dec 00 | Europe
Call to end Turkey 'death fast'
09 Mar 00 | Middle East
EU urges Turkey to reform
26 Jan 00 | Europe
Analysis: Can Turkey fit in?
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