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Wednesday, March 31, 1999 Published at 22:45 GMT 23:45 UK

World: Europe

Turkish police seize 400 Islamists

By Chris Morris in Ankara

Turkish security forces say they have arrested about 400 members of radical Islamic groups in the south east of the country in a series of raids over the last month.

A local police chief said those arrested were linked with the fundamentalist group, Hezbollah, according to the semi-official Anatolia news agency.

The police chief in Diyarbakir said raids had been taking place in three south-eastern provinces against an organisation called the Scientists Group, which is believed to be connected to the Turkish Hezbollah movement.

The police say they confiscated weapons and propaganda material. They allege that many of those detained have received military and political training in Iran.

Several radical Islamic groups are thought to be active in south eastern Turkey, which is better known for the Kurdish nationalist conflict, led by the PKK.

The real strength of groups such as Hezbollah is unclear, but the Diyarbakir police chief said documents found in the raid suggested at least 20,000 members.

Threats to the republic

According to the Anatolia news agency, the authorities believe those arrested in the last few weeks wanted to establish a Kurdish Islamic state. The allegation combines two elements which the Turkish military have identified as the greatest threat to the republic - Kurdish separatism and radical Islam.

The south east is the poorest region in the country and the most socially conservative. Central rule from Ankara has never been fully accepted.

It may be no coincidence that the announcement of the arrests comes less than three weeks before Turkey holds general and local elections.

Many people in the south east are planning to vote for pro-Kurdish or pro-Islamist parties and the authorities may want to put them off.

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