Turkey says 15 women rebels killed

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Fifteen Kurdish militants, all of them women, have died in fighting with Turkish security forces, officials say.

The women were members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and died in fighting in the south-eastern Bitlis province, the interior ministry said.

Bitlis is a stronghold of the banned PKK, which wants autonomy in Turkey's largely Kurdish south-east.

Tensions have risen lately following street protests by thousands of Kurds to mark the Kurdish New Year, Novruz.

Correspondents say the death toll is believed to be the highest number of female PKK members killed at any one time.

Turkish officials said a government-paid village guard, who was helping the Turkish security forces, was also killed in the clash.

The interior ministry gave no other information.

Earlier this week, seven PKK rebels and six Turkish police officers died in clashes near Mount Cudi, in the province of Sirnak.

Last Sunday, police in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir used tear gas and water cannon against thousands of Kurds protesting during Novruz celebrations.

The unrest later spread to other Turkish cities.

Tens of thousands of people have died since the PKK took up arms in 1984.

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