Turks revel in morbid celebration as Oca10lan is condemned to death

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The Independent Online
THEY WERE dancing with joy at the news that a man was to die in Turkey yesterday. As the announcement came that Abdullah Ocalan, the man behind almost 15 years of bloody Kurdish rebellion, had been sentenced to death, waiting crowds burst into a frenzy of nationalist rejoicing.

The mothers of Turkish soldiers killed by Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) wept uncontrollably. An effigy of Ocalan was hanged, and a picture of the rebel adorned with devil's horns was burnt. People seized television microphones to scream nationalist slogans, spitting with passion. "The nation will never fall," shouted one. "Now Europe will have to listen to Turkey," cried another.

Across Europe, Kurds protested and governments condemned the verdict.

In Turkey, the crowds had waited since dawn on the jetty in Mudanya, the port nearest to the prison island of Imrali where Ocalan's trial was held. Red Turkish flags were in evidence everywhere: several people had them draped across their bodies, and one man had even made one into a T-shirt. Most were relatives of PKK victims, with good reason to hate Ocalan. But there was something chilling in the intensity of their passion.

There was little dignity over Turkey's handling of the judgment. As the senior judge read out the verdict live on state-run television, the caption "Decision: death sentence" flashed across the screen, as if Ocalan had just won star prize in some macabre game show.

In the courtroom, several people, including the prosecution lawyers, broke into a raucous rendition of the Turkish national anthem. There was a moment of confusion, as the three judges wondered whether they should stand in honour of the spontaneous anthem.

Beside these scenes of unbridled Turkish triumph, Ocalan cut a surprisingly dignified figure. It was a reversal of roles from earlier in the trial, when the rebel had been unimpressive. Gone now were the craven apologies and pleas for his life. Ocalan seemed to have accepted the inevitable, and instead of the rambling, confused speeches he made earlier in the trial, he spoke briefly and succinctly before sentence was passed.

"I reject the accusation of treason," he said. "I am struggling for the unity of the country and for freedom ... for a democratic republic, not against the republic.

"I hope that the problem which has grown as a result of historic mistakes will reach a solution. I want this trial to contribute to that. I am repeating my call, the determined promise I made at the onset, for a fair and honourable peace and brotherhood in line with the democratic republic.

"The future of the country lies with peace, not war. I greet you all." Ocalan stood impassive as his sentence was read. But the onset of despair was visible in his eyes. Earlier in the trial, he had offered Turkey a bargain from the dock: if his life was spared he would negotiate peace with rebels. The offer was contemptuously refused.

"Thousands of innocent people - regardless of whether they were babies, children, women or the elderly - were killed," said the senior judge, Turgut Okyay, as he read the sentence, his manner awkward with emotion.

Ocalan has plenty of blood on his hands. The PKK has pursued a campaign of violence and terror since 1984, aimed originally at establishing an independent Kurdish state, more recently at winning some degree of autonomy for Kurds. Ocalan said during the trial he would now settle for cultural rights. Kurds are not recognised as a minority in Turkey, and their language is banned on television and in schools.

The government blamed Ocalan for the deaths of all 30,000 people killed in the conflict. The rebel leader had argued that the Turkish state shared responsibility: many of the dead were killed by security forces. Turkey has waged a fierce military campaign against the PKK, which has included the systematic destruction of thousands of Kurdish villages.

Cemal Coskun, Deputy Leader of the People's Democracy Party (Hadep), Turkey's only legal Kurdish party, was unimpressed as he watched the relatives of PKK victims celebrate the verdict on television.

"At least 25,000 of the dead were Kurds," he said. "Don't they have fathers and mothers? This problem isn't just about Ocalan, it's about the democratic rights of the Kurdish people. The PKK won't just go away." Hadep is accused of links with the PKK, and is facing closure by the courts.

"No one can expect us to remain quiet in the face of this attack," the PKK said. Ocalan has warned that if he is hanged, "thousands of people will start the terror machine for me".Turkish police are preparing for possible attacks. Security was especially tight around American diplomatic missions. The CIA is widely suspected of complicity in the abduction of Ocalan in Nairobi.

The gallows are still some way off for Ocalan. His case will automatically go to appeal and death sentences have to be confirmed by parliament. Many believe the PKK backlash will not start until the case reaches parliament.

The Human Rights Watch organisation condemned the trial, saying Ocalan had been held incommunicado for nine days after his capture, and that security forces were present at meetings with his lawyers, which were unfairly limited in frequency and duration. The court refused to hear defence witnesses, and ruled the evidence of one inadmissible on the basis that it was propaganda.

International pressure was already building on Turkey last night as Britain said it would ask the European Union to issue a statement urging that the death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment.

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