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Police break up protest outside Turkish jail

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Tensions are reported to have subsided outside a prison in southeast Turkey, just hours after police using pepper gas broke up a protest by relatives of inmates killed in a fire.

Relatives of the victims, angered by the deaths of 13 inmates at the Sanliurfa prison on Saturday, had gathered outside the prison to protest.

The jail, in the mostly-Kurdish and Arabic-speaking city near the border with Syria, has a capacity of 600 people, but was allegedly holding some 1,000 prisoners, according to local news reports.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, said on Saturday that he would order an investigation into possible overcrowding.

"I was also informed by the governor that the conditions in the cell were not suitable to accommodate that many inmates," he said.

Bedding on fire

Officials said the inmates set their bedding on fire following a fight that broke out inside a ward housing 18 prisoners late on Saturday.

The fire broke out amid a fight between the prison inmates, Erdogan said on Saturday.

The prisoners also barricaded the ward's entrance using beds and other furnishings, hampering rescue efforts by guards, Turkish officials said.

Sanliurfa prison hosts a large political prisoners' section, which holds a legislator from Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), security sources said.

The fire triggered deployment of gendermarie and police forces to the prison, the largest in the city, as large crowds gathered in front of the establishment to see their relatives in the prison.

The region's governor, Celalettin Guvenc said on Sunday that the fire broke out in a section housing ordinary criminals.

"These are regular prisoners. They're not political prisoners nor are they charged with terrorism," he said.

Inquiry launched

Guvenc said earlier that authorities had launched an investigation into the incident, including into possible delays by authorities or firefighters in responding to the fire.

Inmates in Turkey have in the past set bedding alight in riots to protest against poor prison conditions, but authorities insisted the incident was not a mutiny.

Officials said the section where the fire broke out was designed to hold 12 inmates but was temporarily accommodating 18 convicts and jailed suspects still on trial.

Authorities did not say whether the victims were burned or died of asphyxiation.

Three guards suffered burns while trying to put out the blaze, while the prison director and eight other guards were treated for smoke inhalation, officials said.


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