Turks hold victory march in PKK city

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THERE WAS no mistaking the message. This was a victory march, and a territorial claim. Hundreds of young Turkish men marched yesterday through Diyarbakir - the ancient black-walled city Abdullah Ocalan once dreamt of making the capital of an independent Kurdistan - to celebrate the rebel leader's death sentence.

The narrow, filthy streets of Diyarbakir are full of Kurdish refugees who fled here when their villages were burnt by the Turkish security forces, as part of a scorched earth campaign against Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The city is a hotbed of support for the PKK, and locals watched the demonstration in silence.

Questions are bound to arise over where the demonstrators emerged from in the rebellious city, where even the mayor is on trial for PKK links. Witnesses claimed the men were Turkish soldiers in civilian clothes, and that this was a carefully staged parade.

Military officials were unable to comment.

Officially, the government is leaving celebrations to private citizens. In the face of growing international pressure not to hang Ocalan, it is maintaining a wall of silence. The President will not comment.

It was left to Sermet Atacanli, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, to vent Turkey's rage at once again being lectured by Europe on human rights. "We neither have authority to interfere with the judicial rulings, nor will we accept such advice or interference from other countries," he said.

But political meetings were already under way, as parties prepared for a vote in parliament that will make the decision on Ocalan's fate unequivocally political. Under Turkish law, an act of parliament is required to send a man to the gallows.

Ocalan's lawyers announced they would not wait for a Turkish appeals court's ruling before they took the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

While Turks continued to rejoice, there was little sign of the feared PKK backlash.

In the Kurdish-dominated south-east, however, it was violence as usual.