Hour by hour, a new Kurd attack

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE CALLS began within hours of the news that Abdullah Ocalan had been arrested. They started after a meeting of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) in its mountain stronghold in the borderlands of Iraq and Iran and fanned out through Madrid, Rome, Paris London, Bonn and Moscow.

At 4.30pm yesterday, outside the Greek embassy in Holland Park, London, Necla Kanpeper, 15, doused herself in petrol and set herself alight while shouting slogans of Kurdish freedom. As she was taken away on a stretcher, badly burnt, she gave a victory sign. The crowd cheered.

The hours between the call to mobilise and Necla's self- immolation was a demonstration of the power of the Kurds' network. Across Europe buildings were stormed and occupied, demonstrators set themselves on fire and there were battles with police. The raids had the precision of military operations. On Monday night men, women and children gathered at PKK offices to co-ordinate action. Then the raids began. Mainly the targets were Greek embassies, Greece being the country the Kurds blamed for denying Mr Ocalan asylum and delivering him to the Turks.

At 1.30am in The Hague the wife of the Greek ambassador to the Netherlands was asleep at home with the couple's eight- year-old son and a Filipina maid when they were awoken by glass and breaking doors as protesters burst in.

As police went to the house the Kurdish flag, bearing a portrait of Mr Ocalan, was hung out of the window. In the next few hours hundreds more Kurds gathered, trying to force their way in and being beaten back by riot police.

At 2.50am, at the Greek embassy in Park Road, Holland Park, the caretaker, Babis Patsouris, was awoken by the front door being smashed. Scotland Yard's Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Group officers arrived with other colleagues and set in motion a plan honed over previous sieges.

Over the next few hours similar scenes were played out in more than 20 cities across Europe. In Geneva, at 4.30am, 50 Kurds slipped through a side-door at the Palais des Nations, the UN's European headquarters, and overpowered the only guard. A UN spokeswoman said the protesters "were probably armed" and demands had been issued for the freeing of Mr Ocalan. She said no such assurance could be given and the Kurds were being asked to leave.

But instead of leaving, other Kurds smashed their way into the Greek embassy in the Swiss capital, Berne, and the consulate in Zurich, where they took hostage the consulate building's owner and a policeman who tried to negotiate.

From then on every hour brought a fresh assault on a diplomatic building. They were not always Greek. Kenya is also seen by the Kurds as culpable in Mr Ocalan's arrest and in Paris police ejected protesters who had taken over the Kenyan embassy. The no- nonsense approach of the French was also in evidence in Strasbourg, where they fired teargas into the occupied Greek consulate and retook it, holding 30 Kurds. They used the same tactics to recapture the Greek consulate in Marseilles.

The Kenyan embassy in Vienna was stormed at 8.30am. Three hours earlier a group broke into the Greek legation, taking hostage the ambassador, Ioannis Yennimatas, his wife, and three embassy staff.

In Germany, which has the largest Kurdish population in Europe, the Kenyan embassy in Bonn was occupied and two staff held. Another staffer at the Greek embassy was held hostage. Kurds occupied consulates or held protests in Leipzig, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, Dusseldorf and Hanover.

The reaction of the governments on the receiving end of the raids was mostly bewilderment. They were caught on the hop. Greece said it was furious and threatened "merciless" retribution. Dozens of Kurds were rounded up and jailed in Greek cities.

Through its political wing, ERNK, PKK leaders said the occupations were a spontaneous act of popular anger over which they had no control. But the plans were laid before Mr Ocalan arrived in Turkey yesterday morning, and when it was still believed he was in Kenya. The protests were organised on Monday night, in what turned out to be failed last- ditch attempt to press Greece not to hand him to the Ankara government.

In London, as the siege continued, the Foreign Office said the matter was "essentially between Turkish and Kenyan authorities". Although "Ocalan has apparently renounced violence, there is still substantial evidence of recent violent terrorist activities by the PKK".

The Kurds in the embassy retorted that, if necessary, they would kill themselves in trying to free their leader. During the day it became clear this was no empty threat.

In Stuttgart a 17-year-old Kurd received serious burns after dousing herself in petrol. In Copenhagen another woman was critically ill, also after self-immolation.

News of events around Europe filtered back to the crowd at the London embassy. Bottles were thrown and barriers kicked down. Negotiations were going on with those inside the embassy. It was then that Necla Kanpeper poured petrol over herself and set herself on fire. Her mother said: "She did it in protest at the totally unjustified British and world stance on the Kurdish issue."