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Wednesday, November 18, 1998 Published at 13:47 GMT

World: Europe

Turks launch fax blitz on Italy

Kurdish rallies have been held in several European cities

Turkey has called on its citizens to send an avalanche of faxes to Italy demanding the return of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Jim Fish: Kurds from all over Europe converged on Rome
And post offices are offering free faxes for anyone writing to the Italian authorities.

The fax blitz is the latest tactic in a diplomatic row which blew up following the arrest of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan in Rome.

Turkey wants Mr Ocalan extradited, but Italian law forbids extradition to countries that retain the death penalty.

[ image: The Italian flag was burned by Turkish protesters outside the Ankara embassy]
The Italian flag was burned by Turkish protesters outside the Ankara embassy
Turkish Transport and Communications Minister Ahmet Denizolgun said: "We have launched this campaign to help our citizens express their wishes about the extradition of the terrorist chief who is responsible for 30,000 deaths."

Earlier Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz called on the millions of Turks living in Europe to demonstrate their support for the government's position.

Mr Ocalan, who has applied for political asylum, is leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which is fighting for Kurdish autonomy in south east Turkey.

In an interview on Wednesday Mr Ocalan said he had come to Italy in the hope of putting international pressure on Turkey to seek a peaceful solution to its 14-year old war with the Kurds.

"We have abandoned terrorism and are ready for a peace accord," he told the newspaper La Repubblica. "My presence here testifies to a change in the strategy of the Kurdish national movement."

PKK activists set themselves on fire

The crisis has sparked a series of demonstrations across Europe.

[ image: Abdullah Ocalan: Turkey's most wanted man]
Abdullah Ocalan: Turkey's most wanted man
Protests in Turkey by Kurdish activists turned violent on Tuesday, while two PKK activists in Moscow set themselves on fire. One later died in hospital.

Thousands of Kurdish demonstrators also marched through the centre of Rome in support of Mr Ocalan.

In Brussels two policemen were hurt and buildings set alight when Turks in the Belgian capital demonstrated in favour of Mr Ocalan's extradition.

But Italian Premier Massimo D'Alema defended Italy's right to grant asylum saying it was a ''great European tradition''.

"Whatever we decide should not be interpreted as a hostile act against Turkey, but as an act of respect for our own laws, our history, our values," he added.

But he said Italy would have to be convinced Mr Ocalan had renounced terrorist activities.

Plans to abolish death penalty

Mr Ocalan 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 left Syria last month, after Turkey threatened to take military action against Damascus.

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

He was arrested because both Turkey and Germany have issued arrest warrants for him.

The situation is complicated by Italy's obligations to fellow EU-member Germany, where an extradition request is reportedly being prepared.

Meanwhile, the Turkish Government is planning legislation to abolish capital punishment in an attempt to secure Mr Ocalan's extradition.

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