Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Eighty children face jail after Turkish riots
Kurdish children stand next to a picture, on April 15, 2006, they said showed victims of street clashes with Turkish police that occurred two weeks ago in southeast Turkey. Eighty children who took part in riots in Turkey's troubled, mainly Kurdish southeast face up to 15 years in prison, according to an indictment seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Eighty children who took part in riots in Turkey's troubled, mainly Kurdish southeast face up to 15 years in prison, according to an indictment seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
The riots, which began late last month, pitting pro-Kurdish protesters against the security forces, were the worst civil unrest in Turkey for more than a decade and left 16 people -- including at least three children, one aged 3, -- dead and hundreds injured.
The indictment, prepared by prosecutors in Diyarbakir, the city worst affected by the violence, includes charges of belonging to a criminal organisation, damaging state buildings and attacking police vehicles with Molotov cocktails.
If convicted, the children, aged between 12 and 18, face between 10 and 15 years in jail. They are expected to go before a judge in the coming days.
The Diyarbakir Juvenile Serious Crimes Court has dismissed similar charges against 36 other children involved in the riots. A court in the capital Ankara will now decide whether to press ahead with that case or to let it drop.
Dozens of adults also face jail sentences for their involvement in the protests, which lasted for days and included the torching of public buildings and the ransacking of shops.
Turkish officials have blamed the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for the riots and say the group deliberately used women and children to hamper the security forces' response.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on March 31, when the riots were in full swing, that children were being used as "pawns of terrorism" and said the security forces could not guarantee their safety.
A draft anti-terrorism bill under discussion envisages tougher penalties for parents who allow their children to take part in illegal protests.
Turkey blames the PKK for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since the group began its armed campaign for a Kurdish homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.
Turkey's southeast suffers high unemployment and many Kurds want political autonomy and more cultural freedoms. They feel the Turkish state is hostile to them and many express sympathy for the PKK.
The European Union, which Turkey aims to join, expressed concern over the clashes and urged Ankara to improve Kurdish rights. Like Turkey, the EU views the PKK as a terrorist group.