Ban on Kurds pleases Turkey

A SHIFT in policy in Europe away from Turkey's Kurdish rebels has prompted gloating in Turkey and speculation that a crackdown on Kurdish activists may soon spread to Britain and other countries.

Arrests of Kurdish militants since 20 November in France and Germany have dealt a serious blow to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), as many pro-PKK organisations were banned by Paris and Bonn.

The pro-PKK Kurdistan News Agency in Dusseldorf has nearly fallen silent, its last communique spitting out a defiant statement from the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan. The Syrian-based Marxist group will doubtless also suffer losses in its millions of pounds of contributions by some 500,000 Kurdish workers in Europe, mostly in Germany.

The appearance of united European action allowed the Turkish Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller, to claim a success for her fragile government in fighting an ever-bloodier separatist rebellion in which more than 10,000 people have died since 1984.

Turkey's media have consistently led Turks to believe that Europe supports the Kurdish rebels. In fact, although European public opinion is broadly pro-Kurdish, governments have supported Ankara for motives ranging from arms sales to regional stability.

Diplomats said the French and German police sweeps were a reaction to shock at co- ordinated attacks by Kurdish activists on scores of Turkish targets in several European cities, including London, in June and November.

Following reports of a special Scotland Yard unit investigating racketeering by the PKK, Turkish newspapers proclaimed that the days of pro-PKK organisations were numbered in Britain as well. This has not been confirmed in London.

The Turkish press has also reported new promises by Syria and Iran to crack down on PKK militants crossing their territory. But Western pressure will continue to push Ankara to rein in brutal practices by the security forces and to adopt a more tolerant policy that would allow its 12 million ethnic Kurds more cultural and political rights.

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