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Thousands rally in Turkey to back detained Kurdish MP on hunger strike

Demonstrators gather in Diyabakir in support of Leyla Guven who has been protesting since 8 November over prison conditions of PKK leader
Waving flags of the HDP, protesters danced and flashed victory signs in Diyabakir, the main city in the region (AFP)

Thousands of people have demonstrated in Turkey's Kurdish-majority southeast to support a detained politician from a pro-Kurdish party who launched a hunger strike on 8 November.

Leyla Guven, a  member of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP), is protesting against the prison conditions of Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Waving flags of the HDP, protesters danced and flashed victory signs in Diyabakir, the main city in the region, to express solidarity with Guven, whose condition her party describes as "life threatening."

"It is our duty to add our voices to that of Leyla's," HDP's co-president Pervin Buldan told the gathering.

Ocalan is one of the founders of the PKK, which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984, and which is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies.

He has been serving a life sentence for treason in an island prison near Istanbul since his capture in 1999.

Guven's action has been aimed at pressuring the government into allowing lawyers and family members to visit Ocalan.

Ocalan was finally allowed to meet with his brother in jail a week ago, but Guven has continued her hunger strike.

HDP crackdown

Guven's action was supported by more than 150 prisoners across Turkey in a show of solidarity.

She was arrested in January 2018 for her opposition to Turkey's military operation inside Syria against the  the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin that Ankara considers an offshoot of the PKK.

The HDP has faced a major crackdown by the Turkish authorities, which accuse the party of links to the PKK.

Several of its MPs are behind bars, including former party leader and presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas.

Last weekend, Turkish police blocked several dozen demonstrators, including HDP politicians, from staging a march to the prison where Guven is being held in Diyarbakir.

In 2012, hundreds of Kurdish prisoners ended a 68-day hunger strike after Ocalan urged them to do so.