13 inmates killed in Turkish prison fire

13 inmates killed in Turkish prison fire

ANKARA - The Associated Press
13 inmates killed in Turkish prison fire

AA Photo

Inmates in a prison in southeast Turkey set beds and blankets alight, starting a fire that killed 13 prisoners, authorities said today.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the fire affected a ward housing 18 inmates in the prison in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa. He said some inmates set their bedding on fire following a fight that broke out inside the ward yesterday.

It was not immediately clear if the victims had died of burns or from asphyxiation.

Authorities said five of the inmates were hospitalized for smoke inhalation but none was in serious condition. The Şanlıurfa prison holds some 1,000 prisoners.

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

A pro-Kurdish legislator, jailed for alleged links to outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), was staying in a separate ward and was not affected by the fire, the region's governor, Celalettin Güvenç told reporters.

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

"Why (the firefighters) weren't there on time, what caused the fighting, why were these people killed? All of these will be investigated," Güvenç said.

Erdoğan said he would also order an investigation into the possibility that the ward may have been overcrowded.

"I have been told by the governor that the ward's capacity may not have been suitable to house 18 people," he told reporters before his departure to Mexico to attend a Group of 20 summit meeting.

Meanwhile, police used pepper gas to disperse families and protesters who attempted to make their way through a road block to reach the prison, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

The situation at the prison was calm on Sunday and Güvenç said prison authorities would grant increased visiting time for families concerned about their loved ones.