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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 July, 2003, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Turks protest soldiers' detentions
Turkish protestors in Istanbul ripped a US flag apart with knives
Protestors have been showing their anger by ripping and burning US flags
Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered outside the American embassy in the Turkish capital, Ankara, to protest against the detention of Turkish soldiers in Iraq by US forces.

About 250 people congregated in front of the building shouting "Free our soldiers," "America out" and "We will not be America's servants".

Supporters of the right wing Nationalist Action Party or MHP are simultaneously staging anti-American protests in Istanbul.

The detention of the soldiers, which reportedly took place in the northern Iraqi town of Sulaymaniyah on Friday, has caused a diplomatic row between Ankara and Washington.

On all levels, we told US officials that such an event could not be accepted
Cemil Cicek, Turkish Justice Minister

On Sunday the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, insisted on holding a telephone conversation with US Vice-President Dick Cheney to discuss the incident.

"The outcome of this conversation will allow Turkey to make a detailed assessment," Turkish Justice Minister and government spokesman Cemil Cicek said.

Turkey has threatened unspecified retaliation for the alleged detentions.

Turkey's NTV television station said Ankara was considering closing its airspace to US military flights, stopping the use of the southern Incirlik air base and sending more troops into northern Iraq.

Position clarified

Mr Cicek pleaded for calm on Sunday.

"Instead of making estimations, we should assess the detention of Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq calmly and take a decision," he said. "This attitude will be beneficial to Turkey."

Turkey-Iraq border
Turkey has sent many troops into Iraq

But responding to questions from journalists, he admitted that since the incident occurred intense efforts to resolve the situation had been taking place behind the scenes.

Mr Cicek said a delegation of officials from the General Staff and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs left for Sulaymaniyah on Saturday to hold face-to-face talks with officials.

"Their reports are of great importance for us in regard to our future steps. On all levels, we told US officials that such an event could not be accepted.

"We stressed that such events should have not occurred. We also conveyed the sensitivity of Turkish public opinion on the issue," he said.

Mr Cicek said Turkish ministers had experienced difficulty in contacting US officials to discuss the detentions because of 4 July independence day celebrations there.

"Most of the relevant US officials are out of capital for a national holiday," he said.

Faltering relations

For decades, Washington regarded its Nato ally as a firm friend, but the war in Iraq created unprecedented tension between them.

Relations soured when Turkey refused to allow US forces to be stationed on its territory in the run-up to the conflict in Iraq.

The BBC's Ankara correspondent, Jonny Dymond, says northern Iraq is still perceived by Turkey as part of its sphere of influence.

Ankara has long feared the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq which could encourage separatist aspirations among its own Kurdish population.

Since the end of the war, most Iraqi Kurdish leaders have stuck to the line that they are seeking autonomy rather than outright independence.

But several thousand Turkish troops have remained within northern Iraq, ostensibly to keep track of the movements of Turkish Kurdish guerrillas.




SEE ALSO:
Turkish fury at US Iraq 'arrests'
05 Jul 03  |  Middle East



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