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Sunday, February 14, 1999 Published at 19:40 GMT

World: Europe

Ocalan appeals for asylum

Greek Kurds are pressing the government to grant Ocalan asylum

The Kurdish separatist leader, Abdullah Ocalan, has asked Italy, Greece and Russia to reconsider his request for political asylum.

In a statement carried by a Kurdish news agency in Germany, Mr Ocalan also demanded guarantees for his personal safety until a decision on possible asylum is reached.

He did not give any information over his current whereabouts.

He is also reported to have requested asylum in the Netherlands although reports in the Turkish media on Saturday said that request had been turned down.

Mr Ocalan tried to enter the Netherlands earlier this month but his plane was not allowed to land.

Belgium later confirmed that two Belgian air force F-16s were scrambled to prevent a private plane suspected of carrying Turkey's Mr Ocalan from landing there instead.

Whereabouts unknown

The Kurdish leader has been looking for a host country after leaving Italy in January but his whereabouts since then has remained a mystery.

His arrest in Rome last year led to a bitter row between Italy and Turkey, after the Italian government refused to extradite him to Turkey where he is wanted on terrorism charges.

The Turkish authorities regard Mr Ocalan and the group he leads, the PKK, as terrorists.

The PKK has waged an armed struggle for the rights of Turkey's Kurdish minority over the last decade and a half.

Undesirable guest

Many countries in the European Union are sympathetic to the Kurdish cause, but they are also reluctant to jeopardise their relations with Turkey.

Even Greece - a long-standing rival of Turkey over a string of regional disputes - seems unwilling to give Mr Ocalan asylum. The government has said that it considers Mr Ocalan to be an undesirable resident.

BBC regional analyst Roger Hardy says that the PKK leader is a fugitive whose increasingly desperate appeals appear to be falling on deaf ears.

Mr Ocalan has been looking for a new base since he was forced out of Syria last October after the Turkish government threatened to take military action.

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