PKK still backs Ocalan Kurds `ready to fight on'

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The Independent Online
TURKEY'S KURDISH rebels yesterday gave full support to the peace calls of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan, but stopped short of embracing his appeal that they lay down their arms.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader is on trial in Turkey, accused of trying to break up the Turkish state and causing 30,000 deaths. He has threatened thousands more if he is hanged.

"All the party fully backs the historical efforts of our leader with all of its force," said a statement from the Executive Council of the PKK. The council includes the guerrillas' seven top commanders. But despite Ocalan's call to his followers to cease fighting, the statement said the rebels were ready to continue the war.

Mr Ocalan's offer to bring his guerrillas down from their mountain bases is conditional on his life being spared. In addition, he is asking only for Kurdish cultural rights within Turkey, such as Kurdish-language broadcasting and the right to teach Kurdish in schools. It seems a long way from the PKK's early days, when Mr Ocalan was hell-bent on carving an independent Kurdistan out of south-east Turkey.

Even if the PKK's olive branch is real, Turkey seems unlikely to grasp it. Spurred by television images of the grief of those whose relatives have been killed by the PKK, the Turkish public is demanding Mr Ocalan's death.

So far the trial has gone Turkey's way, and the Turkish press has revelled in the Kurdish leader's often submissive statements to the court.