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Jailed pro-Kurdish party leader begins hunger strike

Associated Press logo Associated Press 31/03/2017
FILE- In this Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 file photo, Turkish co-chairman of pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, or HDP, Selahattin Demirtas speaks with journalists after his meeting with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, in Athens. The jailed leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish party says he is embarking on a hunger strike to protest prison conditions, he said in a statement released by his party on Friday, March, 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File) © The Associated Press FILE- In this Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 file photo, Turkish co-chairman of pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, or HDP, Selahattin Demirtas speaks with journalists after his meeting with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, in Athens. The jailed leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish party says he is embarking on a hunger strike to protest prison conditions, he said in a statement released by his party on Friday, March, 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File)

ANKARA, Turkey — The jailed leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish party said Friday he has begun a hunger strike to protest prison conditions.

Selahattin Demirtas said in a statement released by his People's Democratic Party, or HDP, that he would refuse food to denounce what he described as "unlawful, inhuman and arbitrary practices" in Turkish prisons.

Demirtas said he also wanted to draw attention to hunger strikes by other prisoners in Turkey.

The HDP says more than 100 Kurdish or other prisoners are on hunger strikes in Turkish prisons, some for the past 40 days. The Turkish Human Rights Foundation reported that at least five female prisoners had gone on a hunger strike in a prison in Tarsus, southern Turkey, on Thursday.

The party says authorities have imposed restrictions on prisoners' rights to legal counsel or visits by family or lawyers since a state of emergency was imposed following a failed coup in July. It alleges "inhuman and punitive practices," including torture, solitary confinement and unannounced ward searches, have reached "alarming rates."

Demirtas was arrested in November on terror-related charges along with the HDP's co-leader, Figen Yuksekdag, and a dozen other party legislators.

The government accuses their party, which is Turkey's third largest, of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or HDP. The HDP denies the accusation.

It wasn't clear how long Demirtas' hunger strike would last. The HDP said that party legislator Abdullah Zeydan, who is incarcerated in Edirne prison, northwestern Turkey together with Demirtas, has also joined the strike.

Hundreds of Kurdish inmates held a hunger strike in 2012 which they ended after a call by jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan. Hunger strikers in Turkey traditionally refuse food but take sugared water which prolongs life.

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