European lawmaker visits Turkey hunger strikers


Gianni Pittella said he wanted to 'share their struggle' as the hunger strike continues into its second month

President of the European Parliament Socialists and Democrats Group Gianni Pittella (C) during a visit to Turkey to support hunger strikers protesting against their dismissal by the government (AFP)
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Last update: 
Monday 15 May 2017 9:10 UTC

A European lawmaker on Friday visited an academic and a teacher in Turkey who have been on hunger strike for more than two months to protest against their dismissal by the government.

Both were fired under state of emergency decrees declared after last July's failed coup attempt aimed at ousting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government. 

Italian Gianni Pittella, a member of the European Parliament, who also heads the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats Group in the legislature, addressed a crowd of some 200 people in Ankara in support of the pair.

"Turkey deserves a full democracy, and I am here to share their struggle," he said.

Former primary school teacher Semih Ozakca and academic Nuriye Gulmen began their hunger strike 65 days ago and have been surviving on water alone.

Ankara has blamed US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen for orchestrating last year's failed putsch and pressed ahead with a crackdown against alleged coup plotters. 

Some 47,000 people have been arrested under the state of emergency imposed after the coup, while tens of thousands more have lost their jobs.

Gulen, who has been in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, has denied the charges.

Turkish police on Friday broke up a gathering of supporters of Ozakca and Gulmen and briefly detained four people. Later in the day, the crowd gathered again, shouting slogans such as "Pressure will not discourage us".

Supporter Mehmet Dersulu, also a former teacher dismissed in February, said the government had sent a medical team to check on the hunger strikers' condition. 

"Of course their state of health is worrying," he said. "But they only have one request: to get their job back."