- Firat News Agency says Turkish attack helicopters bombing mountains
- Riots broke out Sunday over the celebration of Nowruz
- Erdogan blames the violence on the main Turkish political party
Turkish government officials and security forces commanders gathered Thursday at a gendarme base to bid farewell to six police officers killed a day earlier in a gunbattle with Kurdish rebels in the restive eastern province of Sirnak.
Meanwhile, the Firat News Agency, a pro-Kurdish website, claimed Turkish Cobra attack helicopters continued bombing the mountainous region Thursday where the deadly clash first erupted.
The latest round of fighting in Sirnak coincides with flaring tensions between the Turkish state and activists from Turkey's ethnic Kurdish minority.
Riots erupted in a number of Turkish cities and towns Sunday after Kurds gathered to celebrate Nowruz, the Kurdish New Year.
For years, the Turkish state banned Nowruz, and the holiday subsequently became the date of annual clashes between Kurds and security forces.
In recent years, Nowruz celebrations were officially authorized and more peaceful. The Turkish government had embarked on a so-called "democratic opening" which relaxed laws banning the Kurdish language and education.
But this year, the Turkish government was widely criticized by local media when it refused Kurdish requests to mark the holiday on Sunday, and instead insisted on a weekday, March 21.
Instead of celebrating the arrival of spring last Sunday, Kurds and police clashed in Istanbul and the southeastern predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir.
Wednesday, a police officer died in the hospital of wounds received during similar riots in Sirnak province.
Turkey's prime minister placed blame squarely on politicians from the main Kurdish political party, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
"The BDP once more did what it does best... by turning our cities into a battlefield," said Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a speech before members of his political party Wednesday. He accused the BDP of following orders of fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. Turkey, as well as the United States and the European Union, have formally labeled the PKK a terrorist organization.
"The terrorist organization and the political party that is its extension resorted to ugly provocations," Erdogan added. "The calls of the terrorist organization for months were about turning Nowruz into an uprising."
But Kurdish politicians said the Turkish government bore responsibility for the Nowruz clashes.
"We have been doing these Nowruz celebrations for almost 12 years without incident," responded Aysel Tugluk, a member of Turkey's parliament from the BDP, in a phone interview with CNN.
"The decision to ban (the celebration) came out. This led to the people's reaction," Tugluk added.
Fighters from the PKK have been waging a guerrilla war against the Turkish state since the early 1980's. More than 30,000 people, most of them ethnic Kurds, have been killed in the long-simmering conflict. The Kurds are Turkey's largest ethnic minority. For decades, Kurds have been targeted by discriminatory state policies that banned Kurdish language and education.
Over the past several years, Turkish security forces have rounded up thousands of Kurdish activists on terrorism charges. Scores of elected mayors and activists from the BDP party have been imprisoned on similar charges.
"Policies of suppression, pressure and threat are being used," said Tugluk. "I hope the state rethinks its policies. The current policies will lead to too much pain."