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World - Middle East

Ocalan trial resumes in Turkey

June 1, 1999
Web posted at: 10:18 a.m. EDT (1418 GMT)

In this story:

'I am ready to serve the Turkish state'

Trial's opening draws protests

Concerns over human rights


MUDANYA, Turkey (CNN) -- The trial of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan resumed Tuesday, after a dramatic first-day apology by Ocalan.

Ocalan, the captive leader of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, is standing trial for treason and faces a likely death sentence if convicted. The PKK's battle for a Kurdish state in southeast Turkey has killed as many as 37,000 rebels, soldiers and civilians.

Ocalan is being kept in a bulletproof glass case during the trial. He pleaded for a chance to make peace with the Turkish government on Monday, promising to end a 15-year fight for Kurdish autonomy if his life were spared.

However, many family members of people killed during the violent Kurdish fight were in the courtroom on Monday, and when Ocalan made his dramatic plea, they waved photographs of their dead loved ones. Several family members fainted.

"If permission is granted, I say I can bring down all the men from the mountains within three months," Ocalan told the court at the end of his first day of trial. But he warned that "hundreds of thousands of people will die" in reprisals, if he is executed.

The trial is being held in a converted cinema on the prison island of Imrali, where Ocalan is the only inmate. Prosecutors have compiled a 139-page indictment against him.

'I am ready to serve the Turkish state'

Ocalan began the day by apologizing to the families of those killed in the guerrilla war.

But he urged the court to spare his life, saying he can help bring and end to the conflict between Turkey and its Kurdish minority.

"For peace and brotherhood, I am ready to serve the Turkish state, and I believe that for this end I must remain alive," Ocalan said.

Ocalan formed the PKK in 1978 to fight for an independent Kurdish homeland. He later moderated that call and began demanding autonomy in the late 1980s for the predominantly Kurdish southeast.

Turkey regards any expression of Kurdish nationalism as a direct threat to the existence of the state. Broadcasts in the Kurdish language are illegal in Turkey, and Kurdish activists are closely monitored.

Trial's opening draws protests

The Turkish public last saw him after his spectacular capture by Turkish commandos in Nairobi, Kenya, in February. At the time, he was paraded, handcuffed, before the red Turkish flag. He looked thinner on Monday, but alert and well.

Ocalan's trial drew several hundred protesters -- many of them relatives of victims of PKK attacks -- to demonstrate in support of Ocalan's execution. The protesters arrived in a convoy of about 200 cars outside Mudanya, the nearest port to Imrali, and blocked the road into the town.

Ocalan had been hidden by Greek diplomats in Kenya after trying for months to find a country willing to grant him asylum.

Families of slain Turkish soldiers, teachers and security officials watch Ocalan defend himself  

"Ocalan must be executed for the sake of domestic peace," said 69-year-old Hamdi Er. "There is a fire in the hearts of the Turkish people and only (Ocalan's) execution will quell the flames."

Authorities imposed extreme security measures around the trial to frustrate possible attacks. Warships patrolled the coast near Imrali, and police helicopters flew over the beach in Mudanya.

Police set up roadblocks outside Mudanya to check the identity cards of anyone trying to enter the town.

Ocalan's seizure outraged expatriate Kurds and their supporters, who staged violent protests across Europe. Ocalan's guerrillas staged several attacks in Turkey following his capture, leaving more than a dozen people dead.

Concerns over human rights

Observers have worried that Ocalan might not get a fair trial in Turkey. International human rights groups have sharply criticized the three-member tribunal that will determine Ocalan's fate, because it includes a military judge.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said Monday that a death sentence for Ocalan would be a serious step backward for human rights in Turkey.

"A resumption of executions would be the single most serious retrograde step that one could imagine to human rights," Jonathan Sugden, the group's representative in Turkey, said.

The European Court of Human Rights has overturned prior convictions from similar security courts, arguing that the presence of a military judge violates judicial independence.

Turkey's parliament has been keenly aware of the global scrutiny of Ocalan's trial, and may replace the judge with a civilian.

If sentenced to death, Ocalan can appeal to parliament -- but that body's conservative majority is likely to uphold the punishment.

Berlin Bureau Chief Chris Burns and Reuters contributed to this report.

Turkey marks eve of Ocalan trial with security clampdown
May 30, 1999
Trial date set for Kurdish rebel leader Ocalan
April 30, 1999
Turkish prosecutors to seek death penalty for Ocalan
April 28, 1999
Ocalan to base defense on request for cease-fire
March 18, 1999

TIME Daily: Ocalan, Turkey and the Kurds
Kurdistan Workers Party Information
The Republic of Turkey
President of the Turkish Republic
The Center for Kurdish Political Studies
Terrorist acts by the PKK
Human Rights Watch
European Court of Human Rights
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