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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Turkey still angry over fans' behaviour
Defendant Ali Umit Demir
Ali Umit Demir admitted using a knife
test hello test
Jonny Dymond
In Istanbul
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Ali Umit Demir "was right" to stab Leeds Utd fans Kevin Speight, 37, and 40-year-old Christopher Loftus and was "a patriot".

These were some of the responses from Istanbul residents and workers hours after Mr Demir was sentenced to a total of 15 years for their murders.

Other residents said he had received a "very heavy sentence" which he "did not deserve".

The trial was not a headline grabber: the repeated adjournments and delays in the verdict and sentence had knocked people's interest.

But everyone the BBC spoke to in central Istanbul had heard about the verdicts.

Kevin Speight with his eight-year-old son George
Kevin Speight was a father of two young children
The reason for the level of interest is clear to those who live here: two passions are intertwined in the case - football and nationalism.

Football is sport here and for many Istanbul residents Galatasaray - who won the league last Sunday - is football.

As for nationalism, Turkey is a young country created against the odds at the end of World War I.

All male Turks serve in the army and the flag, a white crescent and star on a red background, is almost as omnipresent as the portraits of Turkey's founder Kemal Ataturk

So when reports began to circulate after the killings that Leeds fans had desecrated the national flag and defaced the currency, it is not surprising that feelings ran high.

One Galatasaray official said recently there was a cultural chasm between England and Turkey.

"Dropping your trousers drunkenly in a town centre or abusing women might be acceptable in England but it caused grave offence in Turkey," he said.

'Insult'

The Istanbul court clearly accepted some of the stories. The sentence Mr Demir received was cut by a quarter because it was judged that he was provoked when he stabbed the two Leeds fans.

In the final hearing on Wednesday his defence lawyer went further, suggesting that the British police knew that "hundreds" of known hooligans were coming across.

He also wondered what might have happened if Turkish fans were found urinating on a British flag in Trafalgar Square.

Ozgur Akyol, out walking with a friend, protested that "it was the Leeds fans who came to Istanbul, drank in pubs and started the fight".

"So 15 years is really high," he said.

"This will affect Turkish-English relationships negatively".

Saban Eksi, eating lunch in a small café, suggested football between the two countries should be curtailed

Christopher Loftus
Christopher Loftus was stabbed to death
"England should not come to Turkey to play football with us ever again," he said

"UEFA should not confront us with this kind of team. Their fans wipe our flag on their arses and provoke us."

He was echoed by a woman having a coffee.

Dilek San said she thought that Mr Demir was right to stab the men "because there was provocation".

"The penalty of 15 years is very high because we are on the right side," she said.

There was concern from everyone about Anglo-Turkish relations, but equally Turks are not going to take what they perceive to be an insult to their country lying down.

Ahmet Gundoglu summed it up.

"This man is a patriot so they should reduce the penalty," he said.

"Our flag was insulted. Would an American let anyone insult their flag?"

See also:

01 May 02 | England
No 'closure' for Leeds widow
01 May 02 | Europe
Leeds fans' night in 'Hell'
11 Feb 02 | Europe
Turkish justice moves slowly
24 Dec 01 | Europe
Leeds deaths trial adjourned
19 Jan 01 | Europe
Turkish accused seek amnesty
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