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Saturday, November 29, 1997 Published at 10:15 GMT

image: [ BBC Correspondent: Chris Morris ]Chris Morris

A court in Turkey has sentenced 33 Muslim activists to death for playing a role in burning down a hotel four years ago, killing 37 people inside. The court said the death penalty was appropriate, because the accused were trying to overthrow the constitutional order. More than 40 other people have been given prison sentences ranging from two to 20 years. Chris Morris reports from Ankara:

The 33 people who received the death penalty were given heavy prison sentences in their first trial three years ago, but the Turkish Court of Appeal decided the original sentences were too light and it ordered a retrial. Those found guilty were among hundreds of Muslim activists who set fire to a hotel during a riot in the eastern city of Sivas in July 1993, while Turkish writers and intellectuals were holding a meeting there.

The attack was apparently aimed at a leading Turkish satirical writer, Aziz Nesin, who'd questioned the originality of the Koran and published extracts from Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses. Mr Nesin survived the attack, but 37 of his colleagues were killed.

The incident deeply shocked Turkey; the Court of Appeal said it struck at the heart of the state's republican and secular traditions and it amounted to a fundamentalist uprising. The judge in this new trial clearly agreed.

Turkey hasn't actually carried out any executions for more than 10 years, but this case aroused extremely strong emotions here and led to fears of more political violence.

The new tougher sentences come at a time when the country's Constitutional Court is considering whether it will ban the pro-Islamist Welfare Party, the largest party in the Turkish parliament, on charges of trying to promote Islamic fundamentalism.

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