'Kurdish capital' holds its breath ahead of Turkey vote

Diyarbakir (Turkey) (AFP) - Hit hard by the return to violence between security forces and Kurdish rebels, Turkey's southeastern city of Diyarbakir is preparing for Sunday's crucial election with a mixture worry, sadness, but also anger.

The entry into parliament of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) for the first time after June's parliamentary polls prompted scenes of jubliation in Diyabakir, the country's main Kurdish city.

But since then the atmosphere has changed dramatically. Two suicide attacks blamed on the Islamic State (IS) group -- one in July in the southern town of Suruc and one in Ankara this month -- left a total of more than 130 people dead, most of them activists from left-wing and pro-Kurdish movements.

And since the summer, renewed violence between Turkish security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has shattered a 2013 truce.

"There have been too many deaths, now Diyarbakir is in mourning," 27-year-old Suat Korkmaz told AFP while fiddling with prayer beads in an old inn in the centre of the ancient city.

"The streets are empty, I've never seen Diyarbakir so quiet," said primary school teacher Yagdar Kocit. "People are afraid a bomb might go off."

As a precaution the HDP has cancelled public meetings, forcing its candidates to campaign discreetly.

Parties need at least 10 percent of the vote to get into parliament and whlie Korkmaz was confident the HDP would "clear the bar" again, he warned "it won't have the same special feeling as last time."

Cerkes Kizil, 46, plans to vote for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"Our country is heading towards chaos and only the AKP can save it," he said.

- Child killed by sniper -

But many Diyarbakir residents interviewed by AFP accused Erdogan and his party -- which took only one of the town's 11 seats in June -- of restarting the fight with the PKK to punish them for supporting the HDP.

Bullet-scarred walls, broken windows, potholed roads -- the Sur district of the old town still bear the scars of the latest clashes in its maze of tiny streets that pitted special police units against the PKK's youth wing two weeks ago.

"It lasted four days, nobody dared show their face in the street, not even a bird," said Saadet Emre, 55, who was wounded by a bullet ricochet.

"We were forced to sleep in the kitchen -- 15 of us."

Her neighbour Emin Celik added: "We had no water, nothing to eat, not even any dry bread."

A short distance away, the Fatih Pacha mosque has stood since 16th century, its basalt walls, normally a draw for tourists, now scarred by bullets.

Nearby stands a ruined building, destroyed by a rocket according to its inhabitants.

Police and rebels alike deny responsiblity for the damage, but residents have no doubt where their anger lies.

"A police sniper shot an 11-year-old girl. Her hair and her brains were scattered on the ground. Do they not fear Allah?" said Celik.

"I've lived here for 35 years and I've never seen violence like it," said Emre. "Eight families have left the area because they were afraid."

Despite the injury to her foot, Emre said she will vote on Sunday "to repeat the same thing we told the AKP last time: they need to share power."

"And if they decide to ignore us and restart the police operations, what can I say? God help all of us."

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