Kurd Protests: Three Greek ministers quit over fiasco

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The Independent Online
THE GREEK government was last night reeling from the forced resignation of three senior cabinet ministers blamed for the loss of the Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan in still unexplained circumstances.

Attempting to draw a line under the affair, the Prime Minister, Costas Simitis, sacked Theodoros Pangalos, his flamboyant Foreign Minister, famous for once describing Germany as "a giant with bestial strength and the mind of a child".

The Interior Minister, Alekos Papadopoulos, and the Public Order Minister, Philipos Petsalnikos, were also forced out.

One of the departing ministers suggested that a senior official from the Prime Minister's office had been present at meetings where key decisions about Mr Ocalan had been taken.

Mr Simitis may now face searching questions about whether he played any role in the operation to spirit the leader of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) away to Kenya, where he fell into Turkish hands. "The Prime Minister has no responsibility whatsoever," the government spokesman said. "Each official is responsible for handling matters in his own department, that is obvious. The Prime Minister cannot be held responsible for dealing with these matters."

The government feared that hosting Mr Ocalan in Greece could have ignited a war with Turkey. Greece's ruling left-wing Pasok party has close links with rebel Kurds and many Greeks identify with Mr Ocalan as a modern-day embodiment of the Greeks who fought Turkish rule in the 19th century.

Thousands of Kurds demonstrated in Athens and the second city, Salonika, yesterday. The Athens stock exchange plunged 6 per cent before the resignations were announced, but appeared to rebound after the reshuffle. That was one comfort for a prime minister and government which had suffered a torrent of abuse over the preceding days from political friends and foes alike.

"Simitis is reacting to the volume and the vehemence of the criticism against him with this reshuffle. It is almost unprecedented in Greek politics," a Western diplomat said.

Opposition parties accused the government of a deliberate betrayal of Mr Ocalan.

Mr Ocalan himself was quoted in the Greek press as telling lawyers during his attempts to gain political asylum that he was caught between Turkey and Greece - "the bandit state on the one hand, and the comedy state on the other".

Mr Simitis yesterday ordered an inquiry into how PKK sympathisers in Greece had brought Mr Ocalan into the country. The departing ministers did not shed much light on what had happened subsequently in Kenya, although all denied personal responsibility for the debacle.

Before his sacking, Mr Pangalos had rounded on opposition deputies who claimed that Mr Ocalan was deliberately handed over to the Turkish security services. "That is the most despicable and worthless accusation I have ever heard in this chamber," he said. "My only consolation is that it comes from you."

Stating that the Greek ambassador in Nairobi was being recalled, Mr Pangalos told opposition MPs that they were "all Kenyans" for suggesting that the ambassador in Nairobi had anyway been ejected, as the Kenyan authorities had earlier announced.

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