Thousands protest in Turkey to show solidarity with Kobane Kurds

Istanbul (AFP) - Thousands of people on Saturday took to the streets of Turkey and major European cities in a show of solidarity with the mainly Kurdish Syrian town of Kobane which has been besieged by jihadists for over six weeks.

The rallies in Turkey were largely peaceful, following deadly unrest in October pro-Kurdish protests and warnings from the authorities they would not tolerate any disorder this time, AFP correspondents said.

In an international show of support for Kobane, rallies also took place in European cities including Brussels, Hamburg, London, Munich and Paris.

The advance of Islamic State (IS) jihadists on Kobane in mid-September forced some 200,000 refugees to flee across the border to Turkey.

But with Syrian Kurdish fighters -- helped by US-led air strikes and now reinforced by Iraqi peshmerga -- holding back IS, the town has become a symbol of resistance against the jihadists.

Around 1,000 pro-Kurdish supporters took part in a march in central Istanbul, with protesters holding up pictures of the People's Protection Units (YPG) Syrian Kurdish fighters killed in the clashes and chanting slogans like "Kobane will be the tomb of IS".

But the biggest event took place in Turkey's largest Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir where at least 15,000 people marched, flashing the "V" for victory sign amid heavy police security, an AFP photographer reported.

In minor incidents, the police used tear gas in Diyarbakir against a small number of protesters who threw stones, while in Hakkari in the extreme southeast protesters set fire to a bank branch.

Protests also took place in cities including the Aegean city of Izmir and the capital Ankara, where some female protesters donned the iconic baggy trousers uniform of the peshmerga, an AFP correspondent said.

- 'Symbol of resistance' -

The demonstrations had originally been called by Turkey's biggest pro-Kurdish party the People's Democratic Party (HDP), and the government had sternly warned against any disorder.

"Peaceful demonstrations will be allowed," Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Saturday, but the security forces "would do what is necessary" if the situation degenerated.

Tensions are currently running high between the government and Turkey's Kurds after pro-Kurdish protests last month left over 30 people dead across the country.

Many Kurds in Turkey are angry over the government's perceived lack of support for the Kurds fighting for Kobane against the jihadists, who have carried out a litany of atrocities including beheadings.

It remains to be seen if the arrival late Friday of the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters in Kobane -- after transiting through Turkey -- will ease tensions.

"Kobane is a symbol of the Kurdish resistance," said Bulent, 51, one of the demonstrators in Istanbul as the protesters marched down the famed Isitklal shopping street towards Taksim Square.

"How can we react otherwise to people who carry out beheadings?" said Sema, 49.

Many of the Kurdish demonstrators in Istanbul waved banners bearing the face of Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned head of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), still seen by many Kurds as their overall leader.

The PKK has waged a 30-year armed struggle against the Turkish security forces for self-rule and greater rights for Kurds in southeast Turkey that has claimed 40,000 lives.

It has largely observed a ceasefire since March 2013 amid a fragile peace process with the government. But violence has flared again in the last weeks as tensions rose over the Kobane crisis.

Meanwhile, some 5,000 people demonstrated in solidarity with Kobane in the Turkish town of Suruc, 10 kilometres (six miles) from the border and from where the peshmerga had left for Kobane the day before, an AFP TV reporter said.

Around 500 people gathered in Trafalgar Square, the main London square where political protests are held, waving placards with slogans such as "Support Kobane, Support Democracy".

One protestor, Ari Ali, 28, said he wanted the British government to support the peshmerga. "That's why people are coming here, to make the government wake up and see what's happening," he said.