Kurd Protests: Siege ends, hands and heads held high

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The Independent Online
THEY CAME out one by one, their hands held high above their heads and with a photo-copied portrait of their revered leader, Abdullah Ocalan, taped to their chests. Slowly and defiantly the 77 Kurds stepped single file into the broad, tree-lined West London avenue. There they were met by the police who had surrounded them for the past three days. They were in no rush.

The occupation of the Greek embassy in London ended shortly after 2pm yesterday, an hour after those inside said they were going to come out. It was calm, dignified, and crucially, given the experiences elsewhere in Europe in the past 48 hours, it was peaceful.

There were no guns, no police dogs, no SAS. The fears that those inside the building would rather die by their own hands than allow themselves to be taken into custody proved not to be the case. "They have highlighted the situation of the Kurds and made the world look," said one Kurdish protester in the street. "They have done their job."

The first sign that yesterday would be the day when the embassy occupiers would give up came early in the morning when one of them told a news organisation they were going to leave at 1pm, after making a statement to the media at noon.The noon deadline came and went with no statement, and no sign of anyone getting ready to leave the building. But 90 minutes later there was a flurry of action in the street outside.

In moments, scores of police in riot gear moved towards the entrance and fanned out across the road. Behind them, a row of police coaches were made ready to take people away. At around 2.05 there was movement from the front of the embassy as a man was led away. This was Babis Patsouris, the Greek caretaker at the embassy who was taken hostage by the Kurds when they stormed the building in the early hours on Tuesday morning. There was a pause before the first of the Kurds then stepped from the building. He was followed by four others. There was another pause and then the rest came out.

They were met by police officers, two to each protester, who cautioned them, arrested them, searched them forweapons and fastened their hands with plastic handcuffs. Their lawyer, the human rights specialist Gareth Peirce, liaised between the police and the Kurds. As they were driven away some raised their hands in the victory salute while others appeared close to tears. All looked exhausted. They weretaken to Charing Cross police station where they were charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

It emerged that their release had been secured by behind-the-scenes negotiations between Kurds both inside and outside the embassy, the police and a group of politicians including the Labour peer, Lord Rea, and Ann Clwyd MP, chair of the parliamentary human rights group. They were also joined by Dr Halouk Gerger, a Turkish historian and Kurd sympathiser. "They were very dignified when they came out," said Ms Clwyd.

She added: "I would not condone the siege of an embassy but I have known the Kurds for a long time and I know their situation in Turkey."

Ms Clwyd revealed that the delay in leaving the embassy had been caused by confusion over whether the occupiers would be charged when they came out. Demonstrators outside the building wanted a guarantee that those inside would not be charged. Realistically this was never going to happen. While police were unlikely to storm the building as long as there was little chance of the protesters either harming themselves or Mr Patsouris, there was never any talk of an amnesty.

Sir Paul Condon, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said the tense situation could continue for weeks or even months.

"We are on our guard about other things that could happen in London, and we have taken some prudent precautions," he said. "Clearly the way this has been co-ordinated throughout Europe and elsewhere it is a significant, ongoing, international situation."

The prospect of charges being levelled against their fellow countrymen did not please the 500 protesters near the embassy last night. "This is not over. We are not going away until the charges against these people are dropped," said Zamir Hogir, a spokesman for the Kurdish Information Centre. "I think it is time for the British government to intervene."

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