ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Thirteen prisoners were killed in a blaze that broke out in a jail in southeast Turkey overnight as inmates set fire to their bedding in a dispute reportedly linked to poor conditions.
The blaze, at a jail housing more than 1,000 prisoners in Sanliurfa province, occurred after a row broke out in a dormitory on Saturday evening, provincial governor Celalettin Guvenc told reporters.
Police surrounding the prison fired tear gas and water cannon at relatives of inmates who had rushed there on hearing news of the fire. Some of the crowd threw stones at the security forces and banged on the prison gates, Dogan news agency reported.
Local media reports said the prisoners set fire to their bedding in a protest at prison conditions but the governor denied there was any mutiny after inspecting the jail with prosecutors, military officials and the police chief.
“They set fire to the dormitory and unfortunately 13 of the 18 people held there lost their lives,” Guvenc said. “There was absolutely no confrontation with the guards or soldiers. This has nothing to do with political prisoners.”
Firefighters extinguished the blaze after about 90 minutes.
Five surviving inmates sought refuge in a toilet and were later taken to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.
Dogan said the dormitories were designed for 8 people but that 18 people were staying in them, with some having to sleep on the floor. Prison capacity was around 350, but that 1,057 inmates were held at the jail, it said.
Ibrahim Ayhan, a member of parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) was among the inmates at the prison but was not believed to have been hurt.
Ayhan was detained 20 months ago as part of a nationwide investigation into links between Kurdish activists and militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Media reports said several protests at conditions had occurred at the prison in recent years, usually involving political prisoners including PKK members.
Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Angus MacSwan