Italian court sets Kurd leader free

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The Independent Online
THE LEADER of the Kurdistan Workers Party, whom Turkey wants extradited from Italy as a terrorist, is now technically a free man.

In a ruling that looks likelyto worsen the diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Italy, both of which are Nato allies, an appeals court in Rome ruled yesterday that restrictions on Abdullah Ocalan's movements were no longer justified.

The court reached its decision because Germany, which had issued an international arrest warrant for the Kurdish leader, had decided not to request his extradition. However, Mr Ocalan, whose presence in Italy has brought relations between Ankara and Rome to a modern low, is unlikely to be going far for now.

His lawyers have confirmed he will stay on at the villa at Infernetto, on the coast near Rome, where he has been under house arrest since he arrived here last month. Police guards told to stop him escaping will now have to protect him.

Italy's Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema, said the court decision will inevitably speed up other decisions regarding Mr Ocalan's fate. He indicated there were two options open to Italy that were "equally difficult". One was to have the PKK leader put on trial at a special court in Italy, while the other was to expel him.

Mr Ocalan has requested political asylum, provoking the wrath of Turkey and a Turkish embargo on imports from Italy.

Turkey's ambassador in Rome, Inal Batu, yesterday asked Italy's foreign ministry for an explanation of the appeal court's ruling.

In Ankara the Defence Minister, Ismet Sezgin, said that the ruling "will damage both Turkish-Italian relations and international law."

The Turkish government holds Mr Ocalan and the PKK responsible for the deaths of more than 29,000 people, killed by Kurdish fighters and Turkish armed forces, in the Kurds' 14-year fight for independence.

Mr Ocalan has recently distanced himself from the guerrilla activities of the PKK and called on Europe to force Turkey to enter negotiations over Kurdish grievances.

In an open letter to Mr D'Alema, published by La Repubblica newspaper, Mr Ocalan said Rome would be the ideal venue for peace talks.