Riot Police Detain 130 Kurdish Protesters in TurkeyAfter Clashes Leave Dozens Injured

Police said Saturday they detained 130 people after Kurdish protesters chanting support for separatist guerrillas clashed with police in eastern Turkey leaving dozens injured.

Kurdish men hurled rocks at riot police who protected themselves with plastic shields, television film from the Cihan news agency showed. Police later fired tear gas to disperse the crowd and beat some of the protesters, the footage showed.

Mehmet Salih Kesmez, police chief of the eastern province of Van, said 38 protesters and 15 police officers were injured. Four, including a police officer, were seriously hurt and were being treated in an intensive care unit, he said.

Protesters had gathered early Saturday in the city of Van, near Turkey's border with Iran, to celebrate the Nowruz festival marking the beginning of spring. Some Turkish Kurds use the festival to highlight their demand for autonomy.

The group soon started chanting slogans supporting the Kurdistan Workers' Party, police said. The party, known as the PKK, has waged a guerrilla war against the government for Kurdish autonomy since 1984.

Riot police intervened, ordering the group to end the celebration, but the group continued chanting slogans, police said.

"We warned those people who chanted slogans for the terrorist organization," Kesmez said. He said the police moved in after protesters refused to disperse and threw stones at officers.

Officers trying to disperse the crowd used truncheons to hit dozens of men, Cihan showed.

Several women in traditional Kurdish outfits were sitting on a sidewalk, encircled by police officers, and an officer kicked one of the women, the film showed.

Skirmishes broke out during similar celebrations across Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeastern region on Friday. Nowruz is traditionally celebrated on March 21.

In Diyarbakir, protesters shouted slogans on Friday praising the imprisoned PKK leader, but police did not intervene. At the close of the festival, dozens of Kurdish youths threw stones at police.

The PKK wants political and cultural autonomy for Kurds in southeastern Turkey, and the conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since it began in 1984.

The government plans to spend up to US$12 billion (euro8 billion) on dam and irrigation projects in the next five years to improve agriculture in the mostly rural area and to launch a television channel with Kurdish-language broadcasts.

The European Union has said Turkey must relax cultural restrictions on Kurds and take other steps to improve their lives to meet the criteria for membership.