ANKARA: Turkey's justice minister urged hundreds of hunger-striking Kurdish prisoners Wednesday to end their protest, but did not comment on the strikers' demands.
"For the well-being of your body, your health, your families: give up this action," Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said in front of reporters after a visit to the prison of Sincan on the outskirts of Ankara, where he held his first meeting with the strikers.
He said there were about 680 prisoners on hunger strike since mid-September in several Turkish jails. They were imprisoned for belonging to the armed rebels of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) or colluding with them.
Ergin emphasised that the conservative Islamist-oriented government "is working to ensure that this kind of activity is no longer necessary in Turkey".
"Initiatives are underway," he said but did not say whether the government planned to answer the strikers' demands.
The strike was launched on September 12 by several dozen Kurdish detainees and spread throughout the Turkish prison system. Pro-Kurd organisations say the prisoners' health is getting worse.
They are calling for the release of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has been in prison in northwest Turkey since 1999. They are also demanding a complete end to restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language and protesting against their detention.
"Their voice has been heard. The objective has been reached," said Ergin.
The strikers include several leaders of the chief Kurdish party, the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). More than 30 mayors, six lawmakers and 56 DBP council members are currently behind bars.
Police meanwhile used tear gas to break up a rally of about 300 people in support of the hunger strikers outside a women's prison in Istanbul's Bakirkoy district, television reports said.
The Turkish justice system last year began a legal offensive against political offshoots of the PKK, putting hundreds in jail, among them journalists and prominent political figures.
Since 1980 at least 144 prisoners in Turkey have died in hunger strikes, according to a statement from Turkish human rights association.