Shops stage black protest over Kurds

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The Independent Online
THE UNITED colours of Benetton have all turned black in Turkey. Only black clothing is on display in the shopfronts of Benetton's 171 outlets in the country. Some have festooned their windows with black ribbon. The only splash of colour permitted is the red Turkish flag.

But this is not one of the outlandish stunts that have made the Italian clothing giant famous. It is a protest against the Italian government's reluctance to extradite the Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan to Turkey to face trial for terrorist offences. The move does not come from Benetton, but from the owners of the shops in Turkey, which are operated under licence. "It's a very understandable protest and Benetton is making no reaction," said a spokeswoman.

The stunt is just one of a series of gestures against Italy from a furious Turkish public. Italian-made mopeds and washing machines have been burnt on the streets. The Italian Embassy has been besieged by protesters. "We will annex Italy," one shouted last week.

Viewers tuning into Italian cable television channels found an announcement from Turkey's state-run cable operator explaining that it had cut the stations' broadcasts in protest.

Mr Ocalan and his Kurdistan Workers' Party are loathed in Turkey, where they are blamed for the deaths of 30,000 civilians. Last week, the Turkish Prime Minister, Mesut Yilmaz, threatened Italy with Turkey's "eternal hostility" if it did not hand over Mr Ocalan.

That hostility is visible on the streets. "We're having a boycott on their products, we won't buy a thing from them," are frequent comments. Italian people are no longer welcome, and Rome has warned its citizens to avoid travel in Turkey.

Benetton believes that it will not be hit by a boycott, as 95 per cent of the products that it sells in Turkey are produced in the country. However, a domestic car manufacturer, Tofas, a joint venture with Italy's Fiat, has already had 1,000 orders cancelled. "For a company which produces 100,000 cars a year, 1,000 can be excused in the name of a national cause, but we are concerned that this loss will grow," a company official said.

The European Union Commission has threatened economic sanctions if the boycott is backed by the Turkish government. Turkey's defence ministry said it would rule Italy out of future defence contracts.

Bitterness spread on to the football pitch when Uefa decided earlier this week to postpone a football match between the Turkish champions, Galatasaray, and Juventus of Turin, because Italian players feared for their safety.

When supporters of Mr Ocalan held a march in central Istanbul last week, angry Turkish bystanders attacked them.