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Saturday, November 14, 1998 Published at 19:14 GMT

World: Europe

Kurds protest at arrest of PKK leader

Abdullah Ocalan: On the run since last month

At least 1,000 Kurds have demonstrated in Italy against the arrest of Kurdish separatist leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

One report said as many as 1,500 people protested outside the military hospital in Rome where the authorities are holding Mr Ocalan, who has led 14 years of guerrilla warfare in the predominantly Kurdish south-east Turkey.

Scuffles broke out between some of the demonstrators and Turkish journalists, witnesses said. Mr Ocalan is reported to have gone on hunger strike.

Turkey has formally asked Italy for the extradition of Mr Ocalan - who is wanted by Ankara on charges of treason.

The BBC's Chris Morris in Ankara: "Extradition would be a big blow to the PKK"
Mr Ocalan has asked the Italian authorities for political asylum, the Kurdish separatist party, the PKK, has said. A spokesman, Kani Yilmaz, insisted that Mr Ocalan had voluntarily given himself up on his arrival in Rome.

Many senior figures in Italy's new centre-left government are reported to have said Italy should give Mr Ocalan asylum.

Extradition could be held up by the issue of the death penalty in Turkey. Italy's post-World War II constitution abolished the death penalty for civilians and prevents the extradition of suspects to countries where the death penalty is still in use.

However, Turkish Justice Minister Hasan Denizkurdu is reported to have said on Friday he was prepared to submit legislation to parliament to scrap capital punishment.

The situation is further complicated by Italy's obligations to fellow EU-member Germany, where Ocalan is also wanted. Germany is reported to be preparing its own extradition request.


Mr Ocalan was detained at Rome's Fiumicino airport on Thursday evening after flying in from Moscow on a false passport, according to Italian police.

[ image: Mesut Yilmaz: Expects Nato-ally to co-operate]
Mesut Yilmaz: Expects Nato-ally to co-operate
Italian Foreign Minister, Lamberto Dini, said it was his government's duty to arrest Mr Ocalan, as both Turkey and Germany had issued arrest warrants for him.

Turkish Prime Minister, Mesut Yilmaz, has said he has not the "slightest doubt" that Nato ally Italy would approve the extradition request, which was "of vital importance for Turkey".

"We hold [Ocalan] responsible for the deaths of 30,000 people throughout the last 12 years and for the destruction of many parts of my country," said Turkey's ambassador to Italy, Inal Batu.

Turkey's most wanted man

Mr Ocalan is Turkey's most wanted man. He is a hate figure for many Turks, but a hero to his Kurdish supporters.

The Kurdish leader fled abroad in 1980 after the army staged a coup and has lived in exile ever since.

He has been on the run since he was forced to leave Syria last month, after Turkey threatened to take military action against Damascus.

Last month, the Turkish Government said the PKK leader had travelled to Russia after leaving Syria.

Even though Mr Ocalan's presence in Moscow had been taken for granted by the world's media in recent weeks, the Russian Government had still not publicly confirmed that he was there.

Last week, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, the Duma, called on President Boris Yeltsin to grant Mr Ocalan political asylum.

It is still unclear why the Kurdish leader decided to leave Russia.

Some analysts believe that he may have been forced to leave the country quietly by a Russian Government caught between Kurdish sympathisers at home and strident Turkish demands for his extradition.

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13 Nov 98 | Europe
Abdullah Ocalan: Hate-figure and hero

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