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Turkish jail raids meet 'resistance'

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Security forces in Turkey have stormed two prisons for the second day in a row, following the deaths of 18 people in jail violence.

In Wednesday's pre-dawn raid on Umraniye prison in Instanbul, forces used fire engines, a bulldozer and armoured cars, Anatolia news agency said.

Sixteen prisoners, who burned themselves to death, and two paramilitary police died on Tuesday when forces stormed 20 prisons to end hunger strikes and protests, Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk said.

Another 78 prisoners were injured in the raids, while more than 500 hunger strikers were taken to hospital for treatment.

On Wednesday, forces also stormed Canakkale prison in north-western Turkey.

"There is strong resistance at both prisons," an Interior Ministry official said.

In Tuesday's raids, paramilitary police armed with gas grenades and backed by helicopters moved in after weeks of trying to peacefully end the hunger strikes.

The hunger strikes, some of them two months old, are against plans to replace large prison dormitories with smaller cells.

Turk said the raids, dubbed "Operation Return to Life," were to rescue hundreds of prisoners with weakening health under the hunger strikes.

Umraniye and Canakkale prisons were the only two not under the control of security forces by Tuesday night.

The raids sparked demonstrations in Istanbul and Ankara, with protesters clashing with police and setting alight a police car.

Prison officials say the transfer to smaller cell jails is necessary to break the grip of organised crime gangs, extreme leftists, Kurdish separatists and militant Islamic groups.

But the prisoners, most of them members of far-left organisations, say the small cells will make them more vulnerable to abuse by jailers.

Turk said the government would not back down from plans to transfer prisoners to small cells.

"From now on, large wards in Turkey's prisons are absolutely out of the question," he said.

"Now in our prisons the rule of the state and respect for human rights will be manifest to the highest degree."

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Turkish jail toll rises to 17
December 19, 2000

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