ANKARA - Turkey's Interior Minister Muammer Guler said Wednesday that protesters were attempting to use the death of a young man during a demonstration to "spread chaos" as pockets of anti-government unrest flared once again in the country.
As tensions rose, the country's Kurdish rebels for the first time called on their supporters to join demos against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seen by critics as increasingly authoritarian.
Demonstrator Ahmet Atakan died in hospital Monday night after being allegedly hit in the head by a tear gas canister during clashes between police and around 150 protesters in the southeastern city of Antakya near the Syrian border. But the minister disputed that account, saying Atakan had died after falling from a rooftop where he had been throwing stones at police.
"Yesterday, images were broadcast on television showing that police were not in the process of intervening... and that he fell from a height," Guler told journalists in Ankara.
An autopsy also showed that the 22-year-old had died in a fall, he said. Demonstrations were held across Turkey Tuesday night to protest Atakan's death, with clashes with police lasting into the early hours.
Guler claimed that the clashes in Antakya specifically sprung from "ethnic provocation" designed to cause "chaos".
"We know very well that there were accusations made before all the facts were established, in an immediate attempt to use the incident to harm the police and use it as a provocation," he said.
The city of Antakya, close to the Syrian border, has a mixed population of Turks, Kurds and Arabs, including Sunni Muslims and Alawites, the religious minority of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have flooded into the city in recent months, heightening tensions between the communities, as Alawites are largely hostile to the Turkish policy of supporting Syrian rebels bent on overthrowing Assad.
Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) party on Wednesday called on Turkey's Kurds to support the ongoing demonstrations against Erdogan's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The anti-government unrest reached it peak with three weeks of violent clashes in June, when protesters where met with a heavy-handed police crackdown, but the demos have since continued on and off.
"The people's fight for democracy in Turkey and the Kurdish people's struggle for freedom and democracy are united," a PKK spokesman told Kurdish press agency Firat, a mouthpiece for the group.
The group's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan said in June that he thought the protest movement largely made up of secular liberals made "a lot of sense", but didn't ask Kurds to join the demos.
The PKK on Monday announced that it was halting a planned pullout of its fighters from Turkey, accusing Ankara of not abiding by a fragile peace deal, but vowing to respect a truce.
The rebel group accused the government of failing to pass a package of democratic reforms designed to reinforce the rights of Kurds, who represent 15 million people in Turkey.
Promised amendments to the penal code and electoral laws as well as promises of the right to education in the Kurdish language and a degree of regional autonomy had not been kept, they said.