Kurds converge on Rome to demand freedom for PKK chief

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The Independent Online
Thousands of Kurds are converging on Rome to press the government to grant political asylum to Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party, the PKK.

Mr Ocalan was arrested at Rome airport last Thursday after arriving on a flight from Moscow. The Turkish government is demanding his extradition to face charges of murder and terrorist activities. The PKK has waged a 14-year war with Turkey for autonomy in the south-east of the country.

Around 1,500 Kurds, many from northern Europe, have occupied the square in front of the Celio military hospital, where it was thought Mr Ocalan was being held. They had come from Switzerland, Germany, France Belgium and even Sweden.

Young men in uniform black leather jackets and jeans and older ones in suits waved the red, yellow and green Kurdish flag and held aloft poster- sized photographs of Mr Ocalan, known as Apo, or Uncle. Women chanted "Freedom for Apo, freedom for Kurdistan". One of the organisers, Ahmed, of Bonn, said they expected to draw 10,000 Kurds to Rome. "We will stay here until Apo is granted asylum," he said. "The [Italian] government must not bow to the threats of the Turks."

The Turkish Foreign Minister, Ismail Cem, in Rome yesterday, urged his Italian counterpart, Lamberto Dini, not to side with what he said were terrorists. Relations between the two countries are already strained by a recent decision of the Italian authorities to allow a meeting in Rome of the Kurdish parliament-in-exile.

The hard-left parties and the Greens want Mr Ocalan to be granted political refugee status and the main party of government, the left-of-centre Democratico della Sinistra, are reluctant to surrender him.

Italy's constitution prohibits repatriation to any country which allows the death penalty, as Turkey does. Germany also has an arrest warrant for the PKK leader but has not yet presented an extradition request. If it did, it would be hard for Italy to refuse.

The circumstances of Mr Ocalan's arrival are still unclear. He was arrested as soon as he stepped off an aircraft from Russia, where he had been seeking asylum after fleeing his hideout in Syria.

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