COLOGNE (Germany), -- About 25,000 Kurdish supporters demonstrated peacefully in Germany's Cologne on Saturday against Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, chanting in German, "neither military coup nor civilian dictatorship."
Many demonstrators carried posters portraying Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, and is banned in Germany.
Ocalan, who has been held in prison by Turkey since 1999, has not been heard from since the failed July 15 coup. A group of Kurdish politicians and activists in Turkey have said they will start a hunger strike next week to demand the right to visit Ocalan, who has been kept in isolation since peace talks between the PKK and the government collapsed last year.
"We are demonstrating because we have been treated unfairly for 30 years, but also because Germany is supporting that behaviour through weapons shipments and bans on Kurdish groups in Germany," said Yavuz Fersoglu, spokesman for Nav-Dem, the Kurdish group that organised the demonstration in Cologne.
German officials are concerned about deepening divisions following the failed putsch among the 3 million people with a Turkish background in Germany.
A police spokeswoman said 1,000 police officers on site kept the demonstration largely peaceful, although many banned PKK flags and banners were confiscated. Police also had to shut a nearby bridge during the event to investigate a possible backpack bomb, but later determined it was a false alarm.
Police had detained 77 people on Friday in the nearby town of Grevenbroich after Kurdish students refused to disperse after a sit-in. Three police officers were injured, police said.
The Verfassungsschutz domestic intelligence agency estimates the PKK has about 14,000 members in Germany. The agency in June said that it could not rule out a return by the PKK to militant forms of action in Europe given escalating violence in Turkey.
Organisers negotiated with police to stage the Cologne demonstration after city officials cancelled a Kurdish festival that had been scheduled for a stadium with a capacity of 50,000, fearing it could engender counter-demonstrations and violence.
The event followed a demonstration by about 20,000 Erdogan supporters at the same site on July 31.
Ankara had reacted angrily after Germany's top court prevented Erdogan from addressing the crowd via teleconference. The Kurdish event was also banned from live-streaming any speakers.
Meanwhile in TURKEY'S DIYARBAKIR, five Turkish soldiers were killed and six more were wounded in clashes with militants from the outlawed PKK on Saturday, security sources said, adding to a recent spike in violence in the southeastern Hakkari province.
The soldiers were guarding a road in Hakkari's Semdinli district when the clashes broke out, the security sources said. An operation was underway to catch the militants, they said.
In the VAN province near the border with Iran, eight members of Turkey's security forces and 11 PKK militants were killed in clashes overnight in southeast Turkey, security sources said on Saturday.
The fighting followed a day of violence across the largely Kurdish southeast in which 27 PKK militants and at least seven security force members were killed.
Southeastern Turkey has been hit by waves of violence since the collapse of a 2-1/2-year ceasefire between the Turkish state and the autonomy-seeking PKK in July 2015.
An air operation was continuing in the region on Saturday following the overnight clashes, state-run Anadolu Agency said, citing the local governor.
Some 40,000 people, most of them Kurds, have been killed since the PKK first took up arms against the state three decades ago. The group is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.
Source: Nam News Network