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Wednesday, December 2, 1998 Published at 03:13 GMT

World: Europe

Analysis: Affair strains relations with Europe

Kurds demonstrate in hamburg, nothern Germany

By Chris Morris in Ankara

The Turkish authorities have renewed their bitter criticism of the Italian and German Governments as the dispute surrounding the fate of the PKK Kurdish rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan, intensifies.

Mr Ocalan has applied for political asylum in Rome, while Turkey wants to extradite him to face charges of mass murder.

On Tuesday Turkey's caretaker Prime Minister, Mesut Yilmaz, said a joint German and Italian proposal to try Mr Ocalan in an international court was "shameful".

Ankara had already dismissed another suggestion from Rome and Bonn, that Europe should get involved in trying to find a peaceful solution to the Kurdish conflict in Turkey, as "worthless and totally uncalled for".

Relations strained

As the arguments about what to do with Mr Ocalan drag on, Turkey's often difficult relations with the European Union are coming under strain.

The Ocalan affair has heightened a sense of distrust among many Turks who believe the Europe they would like to join will never accept them as equal partners.

Turkey says Italy - and by extension Europe - is being hypocritical about human rights and is giving shelter to a man responsible for thousands of deaths.

Many European politicians say Turkey is being over-emotional and irrational - in a word, un-European.

The Italian Government has emphasised that this is a legal matter which it must deal with in accordance with its own laws.

Many Turks, however, simply want revenge against the PKK, and they have started an unofficial economic boycott of Italian products to press their point home.

Whatever happens to Mr Ocalan in the end, he has already achieved something Turkey was desperate to avoid.

The Kurdish issue is now on the international agenda, and Ankara will find it hard to remove it.

Worries resurface

The peace proposal put forward by the Italian and German leaders has already prompted deep-seated fears to re-surface in Turkey that there might be secret European plans to dismember the country.

With Turkey in the middle of a political crisis after the government fell last week, appeals to emotional nationalism are right back in favour.

The Treaty of Sevres, signed in 1920 but never implemented, envisaged dividing the territory of modern Turkey among several countries.

It is an obscure historical document which most people have never heard of, but in Turkey it is a symbol of European betrayal.

The prime minister has accused Europe of trying to break up the country once again, and many Turks believe him.

Just as Turkey and the EU seemed to be edging towards a mutually acceptable formula for handling Ankara's long-standing membership application, Abdullah Ocalan has emerged as an unwelcome distraction.

But this is not an issue which will simply fade away with the passing of time.

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