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Soccer match clash kill 14 in Syria
Updated: 2004-03-14 11:48

About 14 people have died in the northeast Syrian city of Kameshli as a result of a clash at a soccer match and subsequent rioting by Syrian Kurds, residents said on Saturday.

Five people, including three children, were killed and hundreds injured in fighting that erupted at a soccer match in Kameshli and an ensuing stampede on Friday, residents said.

Rioting by Syrian Kurds in the city on Saturday resulted in about nine further deaths, left 30 to 40 people undergoing treatment in hospital and damaged several buildings, residents and medical sources said.

The rioting spread to nearby Amouda, Ras al-Ain and al-Hassaka, where buildings were also damaged, residents said.

Sources close to government thinking said: "The issue is being turned from a soccer match riot into an issue of a political dimension (by some Kurdish politicians)," in reference to demands by some 200,000 Syrian Kurds who are not recognised as citizens.

One of the sources said the government was close to announcing a solution to the problem of the stateless Kurds, but propaganda by banned Kurdish groups had held back the process.

Some members of a banned Kurdish party have accused the police of using excessive force against Kurds in Kameshli, a city near Syria's border with Turkey and Iraq that has an ethnically mixed population, including many Kurds.

Kurds also blocked the main road leading to the Damascus suburb of Dummar and damaged several cars before riot police dispersed them, making several arrests, witnesses said.

Police also dispersed Kurdish students who had gathered at a Damascus University dormitory, other witnesses said.

Officials were not immediately available for comment on the disturbances.

Last month Syria's state security court convicted two Kurdish activists of seeking a breakaway state in part of Syria, jailed them for three years, but commuted the sentence to the 14 months they had already served in custody.

The men had organised a demonstration by Kurds demanding full citizenship and equal rights with the rest of the Arab country's population. Diplomats say their small Yikiti Kurdish party, an unauthorised group, is regarded by the authorities as a separatist movement seeking a Kurdish entity.

Kurds make up some two million of Syria's 17 million population, but Syrian officials avoid reference to Kurds as a distinct minority and stress the importance of national unity.

Kurds and members of other minorities in Syria have held senior government and army positions including that of prime minister in the 1970s.

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