Thousands of Kurds clashed with police Sunday in Istanbul and the southern city of Diyarbakir, leaving nine people injured as security forces tried to stop Kurdish New Year festivities.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon to prevent more than 40,000 Kurds from gathering at the main square in Diyarbakir, capital of the Kurdish-majority south, an AFP correspondent said.
The unrest spread to nearby areas and several cars were torched, the correspondent said.
Protesters also threw firebombs, the Anatolia news agency reported, adding that a police officer suffered a broken arm and an elderly person was hit in the head with stones.
The protesters pressed on despite the police action and assembled at the city center to mark Navroz with traditional dancing and jumping over flames.
Many sported the colors of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) ̶ green, red and yellow.
Anatolia said several people were arrested, while security sources said two men were arrested after an assault rifle was found in their car.
In Istanbul, home to a sizeable Kurdish community, Anatolia said a group of Kurds hurled stones at police, who had set up barricades, and they responded with high pressure water hoses and tear gas.
Seven people were injured including one or two police officers, Anatolia quoted the city’s governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu as saying, adding that police made 106 arrests.
Turkish authorities had rejected a Kurdish demand to mark Navroz on Sunday, the weekly day of rest in Turkey, designating Wednesday as the only day authorized for celebrations.
The Kurdish protesters “have nothing to do with the Navroz celebrations. What they want is to fight with the security forces,” Mutlu said. “We won’t let them do that.”
The PKK took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives. It is labeled a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community.
Many demonstrators demanded the release of PKK leader rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan, who was jailed for life in 1999.
Navroz celebrations are traditionally used by Turkey’s Kurdish minority to press for greater rights and profess its allegiance to the PKK.
The bloodiest Navroz in Turkey occurred in 1992, when some 50 people were killed by security forces in the Kurdish-dominated southeast.