Some 15,000 people marched yesterday in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, demanding that Turkey release Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan, as Europe’s Kurds held their biggest annual gathering.
Organisers estimated that between 15,000 and 17,000 people, many arriving by coach or train from Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, joined the rally.
A local police official put the numbers at 12,000 to 15,000.
Ocalan, leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has been detained on a prison island off Istanbul’s coast since 1999.
Mirtaza, a 60-year-old protester who travelled from Nancy in eastern France for the demonstration, said the Strasbourg – the capital of a region once disputed by France and Germany but now the headquarters of several European institutions – was a symbolic choice of venue.
“Strasbourg is the centre of Europe – the city of the Council of Europe, the European parliament, the European Court of Human Rights,” she told AFP.
Turkey’s consul general in Strasbourg had unsuccessfully demanded a ban on the protest, as Ankara – along with the United States and European Union – views the PKK as a terrorist organisation.
More than 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 demanding an independent state for Kurds.
Since then the group has narrowed its demands to greater autonomy and cultural rights.
Yesterday’s march took place under high security, with trucks blocking the entrances to streets leading to the protest route – a method used in France since the attack in the southern city of Nice in July, when a Islamist militant rammed a lorry into a crowd of Bastille Day revellers, killing 86.
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