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Turkish police under pressure on torture claim

IBRAHIM POLATTAS claims his 19-year-old daughter, Fatmah, still suffers bleeding from a sexual assault by Turkish police during eight days of torture while in custody in March.

She is now serving an 18-year jail sentence for belonging to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and taking part in a firebombing. But she says she only signed a confession under torture. Her 16-year-old friend, Ceren Sal-manoglu, was sentenced to 12 years in jail on the same charges. She, too, insists she only confessed under torture.

The case of the two women has reopened Turkey's darkest debate. Human rights groups allege that torture is systematic in the country's police system. But this time the authorities have denied the teenagers were tortured. Police have threatened to sue newspapers repeating the allegation. The accusation, they say, is just a ploy by the women - who are appealing against conviction - to gain shorter sentences.

The furore could not have come at a worse time for Turkey - just ahead of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe summit, which will confirm Turkey's standing as a Western ally. Next month, Ankara is hoping to be named a candidate for European Union membership. But accusations of human rights abuses - torture among them - have kept Turkey out of the EU until now.

t An earthquake measuring 5.7 struck yesterday in the region of western Turkey that is still recovering from a tremor that killed 17,000 people in August. At least one person died and around 150 were injured.