Suicides and bombs as Kurds step up protest

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TWO KURDS set themselves on fire in Moscow yesterday and a Kurdish woman killed herself in a suicide bombing in Turkey as the diplomatic crisis across Europe deepened over Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish guerrilla leader arrested in Italy last week.

His arrest is the focus of a confrontation between Rome and Ankara, and sparked demonstrations in European cities, most dramatically in Moscow, where the protesters soaked themselves in petrol and set themselves alight outside parliament. The men suffered serious burns.

The crisis began when the Italians arrested Mr Ocalan, head of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, who has led a 14-year struggle for an autonomous state in south-east Turkey, as he tried to enter the country on a flight from Moscow, carrying a false passport. He applied for asylum, but the Turks demanded the return of a man they claim is responsible for thousands of deaths.

Yesterday the Turkish Cabinet discussed a possible end to capital punishment, which would remove Italy's prime argument against agreeing Mr Ocalan's extradition. For the moment, Rome is holding firm.

For Kurds, Mr Ocalan is a hero, whose detention, Turkish security forces fear, could trigger a spate of terrorist attacks. Yesterday's suicide bombing in Yuksekova, near where Turkey, Iran and Iraq meet, was the first of its kind since 1996, but may signal the start of a new campaign.

The attempted self-immolations in Moscow were but the most spectacular of a string of protests yesterday. Bonn saw a march by 4,000 Kurds resident in Germany, while in Rome thousands of Kurds from all over Europe have gathered for a vigil.

The crisis also threatens further to poison relations between Turkey and the EU, already strained by Europe's refusal to give a date for the start of accession negotiations with Ankara, and by the continuing set- to over Cyprus.