Kurds protest in French city to demand Ocalan release

Members of the Kurdish community flash the v for victory sign on February 13, 2016, in Strasbourg, eastern France, during the annual rally of Kurds from all over Europe to denounce the detention of jailed leader of Turkey's Kurd rebels, Abdullah Ocalan. (AFP)

Thousands of Kurds demonstrated Saturday in the French city of Strasbourg calling for the release of jailed PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan, who has been behind bars since February 1999.

"Down with the fascist regime!" shouted some protestors, many of them waving Kurdish flags and some carrying a vast portrait of Ocalan.

Organizers estimated the size of the crowd at 13,000-15,000, while police put the numbers at around 8,000.

Held in an island prison in Imrali, northwestern Turkey since his capture in 1999, Ocalan remains the number one figure in the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and an icon for many Kurds, who stage annual rallies to mark his jailing.

Over 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK took up arms in 1984 demanding an independent state for Kurds. Since then the outlawed group has narrowed its demands to greater autonomy and cultural rights.

Despite hopes of progress towards peace, in particular after several years of negotiations and statements by Ocalan calling on supporters to lay down arms, tensions have surged again in recent months.

The Turkish government has been waging a relentless and controversial military campaign against PKK rebels in southeast Turkey, while the group has killed dozens of members of the security forces in attacks since a truce collapsed in July.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan "is massacring the Kurdish people in eastern Turkey," demo organizers’ spokeswoman Helene Erin told French television in Strasbourg, home to various European institutions in eastern France.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:50 - GMT 06:50