Kurdish protesters clashed with police on Tuesday near a prison in southeastern Turkey where some inmates are on a hunger strike, witnesses said.

Several thousand people joined a protest march to a prison in the city of Diyarbakir, and police used tear gas and water cannon to drive back groups of demonstrators who threw stones and firebombs from side streets. Shops were shuttered and many families did not send their children to school in line with calls for a boycott.

Turkey's Anadolu news agency also reported a clash between a group of Kurdish protesters in Istanbul. There was no report of any casualties.

Hundreds of Kurdish prisoners in dozens of Turkish jails are on a hunger strike to demand increased rights for Kurds and improved jail conditions for Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is being held on an island near Istanbul. Most of the prisoners are jailed for alleged links to the rebels, who are deemed terrorists by Turkey and its Western allies.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says rebels are orchestrating the hunger strike and that the government will not bow to blackmail. The government has sought to reconcile with disaffected members of Turkey's Kurdish minority, but activists who seek autonomy in the mostly Kurdish southeast and say state concessions have not gone far enough.

A surge in attacks by the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party in recent months has further eclipsed efforts to find a peaceful solution to a conflict that has dragged on since the 1980s, claiming tens of thousands of lives.