Kurds 'claim Turkish troops as hostages'

Kurdish rebels who killed 12 Turkish soldiers yesterday raised the stakes today by claiming to have taken another eight hostage during the fight.

Kurdish rebels who killed 12 Turkish soldiers yesterday raised the stakes today by claiming to have taken another eight hostage during the fight.

Turkey has confirmed that eight troops are still missing following the ambush on the country's border with northern Iraq which brought the area to the brink of war.

"Despite all search efforts, no contact has been established with eight missing personnel since shortly after the armed attack on the military unit," a military spokesman said.

Earlier the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency released the names of seven people it said were Turkish soldiers abducted by separatist fighters in Sunday's ambush. It said an eighth soldier was also taken captive but did not release his name.

The rebel attack on Sunday came four days after Turkey's parliament authorised the deployment of troops across the border in Iraq, amid growing anger in Turkey at perceived US and Iraqi failure to live up to pledges to crack down on the Kurdish rebel group PKK.

It raised the death toll of soldiers in PKK attacks in the past two weeks to around 30.

Tens of thousands of Turkish troops are deployed in the border area and a military spokesman said today that 34 PKK members had been killed in retaliatory raids.

The latest Turkish deaths have outraged an already frustrated public. Spontaneous demonstrations erupted across the country and opposition leaders called for an immediate strike against rebel bases in Iraq, despite appeals for restraint from Iraq, the US and European leaders.

More than 2,000 protesters in Istanbul, mostly members of an opposition party, denounced the attack and urged the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resign.

In the capital Ankara, hundreds convened at a main square shouting "Down with the PKK and USA!"

Ambulances decorated with Turkish flags drove around main streets, their sirens on.

Some 13,000 schoolchildren in Bilecik in eastern Turkey held a minute of silence while people marched down a main street, waving the Turkish flag.

In Bursa, in north-west Turkey, some protesters walked to a military conscription office and asked to enlist to fight rebels.

Mr Erdogan said he told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a telephone conversation on Sunday night that Turkey expected "speedy steps from the US" in cracking down on Kurdish rebels and that Rice expressed sympathy and asked "for a few days" from him.

The US opposes any unilateral action by Turkey, fearing it could destabilise the most stable part of Iraq.

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