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12 dead in Turkey amid Kobani tensions

Kobani, a predominantly Kurdish settlement, has been surrounded by Islamic State fighters for three weeks.

FILE: Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border. Picture: AFP.

ANKARA/ISTANBUL - At least 12 people died on Tuesday during violent clashes across Turkey, local media reported, as the fate of the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani stirred up decades of tensions with Turkey's Kurdish minority.

Violence erupted in Turkish towns and cities mainly in the Kurdish southeastern provinces, as protesters took to the streets to demand the government do more to protect Kobani, a predominantly Kurdish settlement which has been surrounded by Islamic State fighters for three weeks.

Authorities imposed curfews in at least five provinces, police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators who burnt cars and tyres, whilst groups linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) clashed with Islamic State sympathisers, authorities said.

Eight people died in Diyabakir, the largest Kurdish city in the southeast, DHA News agency reported, citing a senior police officer. Several others died in the eastern provinces of Mus, Siirt and Batman in clashes between police and protesters.

Istanbul Govenor's Office said 98 people were detained in 'illegal protests' across the country's biggest city, and 30 people were wounded, including eight police officers.

The death toll in one night has already surpassed that seen during weeks of anti-government protests which turned violent last year.

Protesters burnt Turkish flags and sculptures of the founder of the modern Turkish republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, gestures likely to infuriate nationalist Turks and the government.

"I condemn those who burn flags and Ataturk sculptures. These are provocations carried out to prevent help coming to the east (towards Kobani) from the west," Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the HDP, Turkey's leading Kurdish party.

NATO-member Turkey has taken in more than 180,000 refugees who fled Kobani but has refrained from joining a US-led coalition against the Sunni Muslim militants, instead calling for the creation of a buffer zone along its Syria border.

Islamic State fighters have been pounding Kobani with heavy artillery for days, slowly tightening their grip on the town, despite being hit by recent airstrikes.

"What needs to be done is to create a corridor, not a buffer zone, so that Kobani can defend itself and aid could pass through. Kobani wants neither air strikes nor a ground operation," Demirtas said.

Suruc, a Turkish town 10 km north of Kobani, has seen protests by those angry at what they perceive as Turkish inaction.

Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of PKK, last week warned that a massacre of Kurds in Kobani would doom a fragile peace process with the Turkish authorities aimed at ending the group's 30 year insurgency to demand more autonomy, which has left an estimated 40,000 people dead.