Thousands of Kurds, led by lawmakers, took to the streets in southeast Turkey Thursday for the first of a series of planned protests for broader rights and an end to military conflict.
Some 3,000 people gathered in Diyarbakir, the largest city of the mainly Kurdish region, to stage a sit-in, but the authorities banned the demonstration and deployed armoured vehicles to stop the crowd.
Only several dozen people -- Kurdish members of Turkey's parliament and local mayors -- were allowed to the sit-in venue, while the crowd occupied the street in protest, blocking traffic, an AFP reporter said.
"Kurdistan will be the grave of fascism," demonstrators chanted and also shouted slogans praising the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody 26-year campaign for Kurdish self-rule in the southeast.
A small group hurled fireworks at the police, who responded with a hail of pepper gas and detained five people.
In a challenge to Ankara ahead of elections in June, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Turkey's main Kurdish political movement, said Wednesday it was launching a series of demonstrations to press long-standing Kurdish demands.
It lashed out at the government for failing to ease the conflict and called for Kurdish-language education, the release of political activists from prison, an end to military operations against the PKK and the lifting of a 10-percent treshhold that parties are required to win to enter parliament.
"We will be in the streets until the government takes concrete steps on those four demands," BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas said.
Last year, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist-rooted government launched a cautious, low-profile bid for a dialogue with the Kurds, seeking to cajole the PKK into permanently laying down arms.
Officials held direct meetings with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in his prison cell, but the process has failed to produce any visible outcome so far.
Bidding to resolve the conflict carries political risks for Erdogan ahead of the June 12 elections as many Turks remain hostile to reconciliation moves as concessions to violence.
The PKK announced a unilateral truce in August but last month threatened to end it, saying the ceasefire has become "meaningless" due to Ankara's failure to advance dialogue.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community, took up arms in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives.