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Turkish Police Free Hostages in Courthouse, Detain Kurdish Rebel Supporters - 2003-11-18

Turkish police have stormed Istanbul's main courthouse to end a half-hour seige by Kurdish rebel sympathizers who held three judges hostage. Kurd protestors had raided the courthouse in central Istanbul chanting slogans in support of imprisoned Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan. The group demanded that Ocalan be freed and that the prison island where he has been held in solitary confinement since his capture in 1999 be shut down.

Ocalan's PKK rebel army led a 15-year-long insurgency to create an independent Kurdish state, to be carved mainly out of Turkey, plus parts of Iraq, Iran and Syria. The group declared a unilateral truce and withdrew to bases in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq in September 1999 when Ocalan renounced demands for Kurdish statehood.

The PKK renamed itself the Kurdish People's Congress earlier this month and said it would pursue its battle for Kurdish rights through peaceful means. But rebel leaders in Northern Iraq announced their armed factions, numbering about 5,000 fighters, would be left to operate independently under a different name.

Clashes between rogue PKK elements and Turkish forces have increased in recent months amid fears that the guerrillas will shift their operations to urban and tourist centers in the Western part of the country.