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JAILED Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan called for an end to hunger strikes in protest at his isolation today after meeting with his lawyers for the first time in almost nine years.
A letter seen by the Morning Star and signed by the Kurdish leader was read out by his legal team at an eagerly awaited press conference in Istanbul this afternoon.
He wrote that he although he “respects the resistance of friends inside and outside prison” he asked them to not to carry hunger strikes to the stage where they will “endanger their health and will lead them to death.”
As many as 7,000 people are believed to have joined hunger strikes demanding an end to Mr Ocalan’s treatment, which they say amounts to torture under international law.
The campaign was started in November 2018 by People’s Democratic Party (HDP) parliamentarian Leyla Guven, who celebrated her 55th birthday today with her 180th day of hunger strike.
Calling for the resumption of peace talks which were stopped by the Turkish state in 2015, Mr Ocalan said: “There is a need for a deep social reconciliation in this historic process we are experiencing.
“There is an urgent need for a method of democratic negotiations, far removed from any and all polarisation and culture of conflict for the solution of problems.”
This path he said was consistent with the so-called Newroz declaration of 2013 in which he announced a “historic ceasefire” in an attempt to bring an end to the war between the PKK and the Turkish state.
“For us, an honourable peace and a solution of democratic politics is essential,” he said in the letter interpreted by the Mesopotamia News Agency, insisting that physical violence is unable to solve the problems facing the region, including the war.
Underlining the wish for autonomy but not a separate state for Kurds he said the situation in Syria – which contains the semi-autonomous region known as Rojava – must be solved “within the framework of the integrity of Syria in the perspective of the constitutional guarantee of local democracy.”
Today’s press conference was held after lawyers had met with Mr Ocalan in the Imrali island prison where he has been held since his detention in 1999.
More than 800 applications have been made by lawyers to see him to discuss his case since July 2011 with excuses for refusing them including “adverse weather conditions” and the breakdown of the ferry.
However, a team was able to meet him last Thursday and a statement was prepared, although it was sent to them at a later date as they were refused permission to exchange notes and documents in the prison.
It marked a significant success for the hunger strikers in Turkish prisons, although it has not brought an end to the isolation of Mr Ocalan, which is the main demand of those taking action.
An announcement is expected from Ms Guven today, with sources reporting that discussions are taking place behind the scenes as to how Mr Ocalan’s letter should be interpreted.
However, shortly after the press conference, Nasir Yagiz – the HDP spokesman in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan – was among a group of 15 who announced they would continue their “death fast” until the isolation of Mr Ocalan is ended.
It was unclear how many will follow this stance at the time the Star went to print.
On Saturday, 27 members of the Confederation of Public Employees’ Trade Unions (Kesk) were detained in the largely Kurdish city of Diyarbakir.
Police prevented them from reading a solidarity statement ahead of a sit-in protest, taking them into custody.
Mr Ocalan paid tribute to those who have stood in solidarity with him, including at least six people that have committed suicide in protest at his treatment.
“We would like to remember those who worry about us or those who took up a position on behalf of us with respect and thank every last one of them,” his letter concluded.
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