Funerals of soldiers killed by Kurds turns into anti-government protests

The funerals of three soldiers killed in a roadside bomb attack by Kurdish rebels turned into anti-government protests.

Many Turks are becoming increasingly angry over the mounting military death toll from attacks by Kurdish rebels, some of whom are believed to be launching incursions from across the border in northern Iraq.

The three soldiers a lieutenant colonel, a major and a private were killed Saturday in an attack in the southeastern province of Sirnak and were buried in separate funerals in Istanbul, Ankara and Manisa.

Thousands attended the ceremonies, carrying Turkish flags, shouting anti-government slogans and booing ministers and other government officials who were present. Military officials were greeted with applause.

Relations between the Islamic-rooted government and the military, the self-declared guardian of Turkey's secular ideals, are already tense over the role of Islam in politics. The government called general elections for July 22 to defuse the dispute.

In Ankara, an estimated 10,000 gathered in and around the city's largest mosque for the funeral of Maj. Ramazan Armutcuoglu, shouting: "government resign!" as ministers, including Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul arrived. Police prevented a group from approaching Kursad Tuzmen, the trade minister. In Manisa protesters booed Parliament Speaker Bulent Arinc. The protesters also denounced the United States, Iraqi Kurdish leaders and the Kurdish separatist group, the PKK.

The guerrillas have recently stepped up attacks and many in the country are growing frustrated with the government's perceived inability to convince the United States and Iraqi Kurds to crackdown on the rebels in Iraq. The United States is reluctant to engage in a conflict against the rebels in northern Iraq one of that country's most stable areas.

Guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, have killed at least two dozen soldiers or pro-government village guards in several attacks since May 24. More than a dozen soldiers have also been wounded. The latest was a soldier killed in fighting late Sunday in the province of Erzincan.

Turkish troops have killed 25 guerrillas during the same period, according to a count by the military, which has launched several offensives inside Turkey and has massed troops along the border with Iraq. The military last week also established "temporary security zones" in several areas close to the border with Iraq amid increasing activity there.

A human rights official on Monday expressed concern about civilians in areas of conflict.

"There is bombing from the air, and the civilian people are caught in the middle," said Vetha Aydin, head of the Human Rights Association based in Siirt, one of the three provinces where some rural areas were declared to be "security zones."

There has been no reports of civilian casualties in the areas.

The security zones, imposed in areas inside the provinces of Sirnak, Siirt and Hakkari, ban civilian overflights and impose stricter checks on entry and exit points to the regions, said a Defense Ministry official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of rules that bar civil servants from speaking to journalists without prior authorization.

The regulations in the zones are in no way related to the martial law-like emergency rule that was imposed in southeast Turkey until 2002 and which allowed authorities to set curfews, issue search and arrest warrants and restrict gatherings, the Defense Ministry official said.

"Some specific areas have been declared security zones due to various reasons and that is nothing out of the ordinary," said Ilter Turan, a professor of political science at Istanbul's Bilgi University. "It is not surprising to see such a security zoning get included in this ... fight against terror in the southeast."

Aydin said her group was concerned about the people inside zones most of whom are livestock farmers and shepherds who may not be able to graze animal or travel to markets.

"The situation was already tense because of the deployment and the fighting, and the situation is still tense," she said.

The PKK has been fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey since 1984, in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people. The United States and the European Union brand the PKK a terrorist organization.