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The BBC's Jonathan Charles in Istanbul
"The siege is over"
 real 56k

Turkish foreign office minister Daryal Batibay
"We tried to find a peaceful solution for the inmates"
 real 28k

Friday, 22 December, 2000, 15:43 GMT
Troops end Turkey jail siege
A burnt out ward in Bayrampasa prison in Istanbul
Turkish prisons have been severely damaged
Turkish troops have regained control of an Istanbul prison after a four-day siege, say government officials.

More than 400 prisoners at Umraniye jail had been holding police at bay since Tuesday.

Four prisoners died in the siege, said the government, and there were reports of at least 50 injured.

An injured inmate
Many victims are said to have set themselves ablaze
Umraniye prison was the last of 20 prisons to fall in four days of sieges which have left 26 people, including two police officers, dead.

Troops surrounded the prison on Friday and threatened to send in bulldozers to flatten its walls unless the men surrendered. Tear gas canisters were then lobbed into the building.

The sieges began on Tuesday after a two-month hunger strike by left-wing prisoners protesting at plans to move them to new maximum-security prisons.

During the night, smoke billowed from the prison as inmates set fire to mattresses and blankets, resisting calls to surrender.

Map
The prisoners were said to have been armed with flame-throwers made of kitchen gas canisters, petrol bombs, pipebombs and other weapons.

Justice Minister Hikment Sami Turk said the four casualties at Umraniye jail, had burned themselves to death.

The Turkish Government says the transfer of inmates is necessary to break the influence of organised groups within prisons.

On Thursday more than 150 protesters surrendered at a jail in the city of Canakkale, as the Turkish parliament voted again to extend an amnesty to many prisoners.

Break-in

President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who had earlier vetoed the measure on the grounds that it was unfair and divisive, has now bowed to pressure and ratified it.

The amnesty could halve the number of prison inmates, currently estimated at about 75,000.

Display of weapons from Bayrampasa
Police say dozens of weapons were retrieved from inmates
Critics say it will free common murderers but ignore inmates such as Kurdish guerrillas and Islamist militants who have fallen foul of Turkey's tight political restrictions.

During the Canakkale raid, the police used heavy machinery to smash holes in the walls of the prison blocks and force their way in.

Paramilitary police also encountered stiff resistance at Istanbul's Bayrampasa prison.

The hunger strikers believe that the new jails - which have one- or three-person cells - will leave them vulnerable to abuse by the prison authorities. Most prisoners are currently kept in dormitory-style cells.

Rights concern

The European Commission has expressed concern over the crackdown.

Turkey's attempt to gain membership of the EU depends on improving its human rights record and democratic institutions.

Human rights groups have also condemned the assault.

Amnesty International called for a full and independent inquiry into the raids.

The government tried to reassure the inmates that the controversial plan of moving them had been postponed until legal amendments were passed to allow inmates to associate in recreational areas and to introduce civilian supervision.

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See also:

21 Dec 00 | Media reports
The battle of Bayrampasa
23 Dec 00 | Media reports
Turkish press gets coup jitters
20 Dec 00 | Media reports
Turkish press backs prison operations
19 Dec 00 | Europe
Explosive mix in Turkey's jails
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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