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Turkey arrests teachers on hunger strike over coup purges

Police arrest two teachers on hunger strike for 10 weeks after they were sacked in government purge, according to lawyers
Nuriye Gulmen and Semih Ozakca at a protest on May 13 (AFP)

Turkish police arrested two teachers who have been on hunger strike for more than two months protesting against a government crackdown in which they lost their jobs following last year's failed coup, CNN Turk and a lawyer reported on Monday.

The channel said two lawyers who attempted to obstruct the police were also arrested and police searched properties in the overnight raids. There was no immediate comment from police.

Literature professor Nuriye Gulmen and primary school teacher Semih Ozakca have been on hunger strike for more than 10 weeks after losing their jobs following the failed July coup against the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

They have held demonstrations in central Ankara to highlight their plight, and that of around 150,000 state employees who were suspended or sacked after the failed putsch, which Erdogan blames on followers of a US-based cleric.

Police carry a protester in Ankara after the arrest of two hunger-striking teachers (Reuters)

Gulmen wrote on her Twitter account overnight: "Political department police are trying to enter the house. They are now breaking the door.

"Damn fascism! Long live our hunger strike resistance! We want our jobs back! We have not and will not surrender!" she wrote.

Necati Yilmaz, a lawmaker from the main opposition CHP party, wrote on Twitter that the reason for their detention was "the possibility that their protests could turn into death fasts and new Gezi protests".

He was referring to large anti-government demonstrations four years ago, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest a plan to build a replica Ottoman barracks on Gezi park in central Istanbul.

A lawyer, Selcuk Kozagacli, wrote on Twitter that police had arrested the two hunger strikers and that they were tired but well, although they "were knocked about quite a bit".

Gulmen and Ozakca, surviving on a liquid diet of lemon and saltwater and sugar solutions, have lost weight during their protest and doctors said earlier this month their health was deteriorating.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants and has arrested nearly 50,000 others suspected of links to a movement backing cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Turkish officials say the crackdown is necessary because the Gulen movement had set up a "state within a state" that threatened national security. They point to the gravity of last July's coup, when rogue troops commandeered warplanes to bomb parliament and used tanks to kill 240 people. Gulen has denied involvement.

Erdogan's critics in Turkey and abroad say he is using the coup to purge opponents and muzzle dissent.

Last month he narrowly won a referendum that grants him sweeping new powers.

Rights group Amnesty International said in a report published on Monday that the dismissals of state employees had been carried out arbitrarily and had a catastrophic impact on their lives.

"The failure of authorities to set out clear criteria for the dismissals or provide any individualized evidence of wrongdoing blows a hole in their claim that all the dismissals are necessary to counter terrorism," it said.

"Instead, evidence suggests widespread abusive and discriminatory motives behind the purge."