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Sunday, March 21, 1999 Published at 03:46 GMT

World: Europe

Turkey cracks down on Kurdish celebration

A wave of bomb attacks has hit Istanbul and Ankara

Heavy security is in force in Kurdish areas of Turkey for the New Year festival of Newroz - marked by Kurds as the most important day of the year.

The Ocalan File
The Turkish authorities have detained hundreds of people in Istanbul and south eastern towns and cities in recent days.

Newroz festivities have been banned in a number of towns and cities, but many local people say they will try to celebrate anyway.

BBC Ankara Correspondent Chris Morris says that Newroz, which marks the beginning of spring, has become a traditional time of protest for disaffected Kurds.

Foreign journalists have been banned from six south eastern provinces which are governed under emergency regulations.

Tanks have appeared in sensitive locations and extra military and police checkpoints have been established.

Security forces are also stopping cars going into cities in the south east, searching vehicles and checking IDs.

Pregnant women

Police and the public have also been told to watch out for women who look pregnant - a known disguise for women rebels to carry bombs.

On Saturday a suicide bomber killed himself and wounded three others in an attempted attack on a police station in the province of Van near the Iranian border.

Our correspondent says the Turkish authorities have tried to reclaim Newroz as a traditional celebration, but this year - in the wake of the capture of the Kurdish rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan - are determined to clamp down hard on any potential unrest.

Meanwhile his Kurdistan Workers' Party, PKK, have released a statement in Athens pledging to press on with its battle for Kurdish autonomy.

"Against the genocidal war waged by the Turkish colonisers, our party and people will resist with greater determination and doggedness," the statement said.

Newroz is celebrated in a number of parts of Central and Western Asia: It is also the biggest holiday of the year for millions of Persian and Turkic speakers.

Since the capture of Mr Ocalan there have been a a series of bomb explosions in Istanbul and the capital, Ankara.

In the worst attack, 13 people died when homemade bombs were thrown into a department store in Istanbul.

In the past few years, Kurds who support the PKK rebel movement have used Newroz as an important symbol of their cultural identity.

They sing, dance and jump over the flames of small fires, symbolically burning away the impurities of the past.

Celebrations continue for about two weeks.

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