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Turkish police storm court to end Kurd siege
( 2003-11-19 11:15) (Reuters)

Turkish police used teargas to storm the main Istanbul courthouse Tuesday and seize Kurdish rebel supporters who had briefly taken a judge hostage there, court officials said.

Heavily armed riot police forced their way into a courtroom where the protesters had been holed up and led away about 20 people in handcuffs, witnesses said. There were no reports of injuries.

A lawyer at the courthouse told Reuters one judge was briefly taken hostage during the protest, held in support of jailed Kurdish guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan.

However, Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu told reporters there were no hostages and the protesters were not armed.

"The security forces intervened in a timely fashion. The necessary action will be taken (against the demonstrators)," Aksu said.

Ocalan's lawyers have repeatedly complained about the conditions in which their client is held and say his health is deteriorating. Turkish authorities say he is fairly and humanely treated.

The sympathizers of the guerrilla Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) entered the court and barricaded themselves in with a metal cupboard during a case related to the Kurdish Democratic People's Party -- a legal political group.

"They occupied part of the third floor and opened a banner calling for a democratic solution to the Kurdish problem," a court official said.

The group, describing itself as the "Youth Initiative for Social Peace," chanted slogans in support of Ocalan. Their banner called for the closure of the island prison near Istanbul where Ocalan is the sole inmate.

More than 30,000 people have been killed since 1984 in a PKK rebellion in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey. The fighting has subsided since Turkish special forces seized Ocalan in Kenya in 1999 and brought him back to Turkey where he was tried and jailed for treason.

Ocalan's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after Turkey abolished the death penalty under EU-inspired democratic reforms.

The PKK, whose fighters had withdrawn to the mountains of northern Iraq (news - web sites), recently called off a unilateral cease-fire. Turkish authorities never recognized the truce.

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