Clashes erupt as Turkish nationalist visits Kurdish region

Tunceli (Turkey) (AFP) - Turkish security forces and pro-Kurdish protesters clashed on Friday as tensions erupted over the visit of a nationalist leader to a flashpoint eastern region, an AFP photographer reported.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli, a figure of hate for many Kurds, visited the eastern province of Tunceli, a stronghold of Kurds who adhere to the Alevi offshoot of Shia Islam.

Shops were boarded up as protesters threw stones at anti-riot police, who responded with tear gas, pepper spray and water cannon. Protesters also set fire to timber, sending plumes of black smoke into the sky. There were no reports of any casualties.

Bahceli later cut short his visit to return south to the city of Elazig, cancelling a planned visit to an Alevi prayer house, known as a cemevi, and a planned visit to meet tradesmen.

Bahceli visited Tunceli in defiance of warnings by Alevi associations that he was not welcome, after being challenged by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to set foot in the region.

Tunceli -- previously called Dersim province -- was the scene in 1937-1938 of notorious massacres carried out by the Turkish security forces of Alevi Kurds that left several thousand dead.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has apologised for the bloodshed, but the MHP believes there is nothing to say sorry for.

Tensions are running high among Turkey's Kurdish minority after nationwide clashes in October over the standoff with jihadists for the Syrian town of Kobane left over 30 dead.

The majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslim but a significant number are Alevis who comprise by far Turkey's largest religious minority.