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Friday, May 28, 1999 Published at 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK

World: Europe

Turkish justice in the spotlight

Ocalan: Stirs strong passions among Kurds

By Middle East and Islamic affairs analyst Roger Hardy

The Ocalan File
The trial of Abdullah Ocalan will attract intense international scrutiny. Turkey regards the group he leads, the PKK, as a terrorist organisation which has threatened the unity and security of the Turkish state. So what sort of justice can Mr Ocalan expect?

He faces a possible death sentence, even though Turkey has not carried out the death penalty since 1984.

Tom Spencer, MEP: "Turks will want to act properly"
The arrest of Mr Ocalan sparked off diametrically opposite reactions among Turkey's Turks and Kurds. The trial will increase the danger of further polarisation.

Many Turkish nationalists see him as a bloodthirsty murderer. They are overjoyed at his capture and are likely to demand his execution.

[ image: Ocalan: A hero to many Kurds]
Ocalan: A hero to many Kurds
But among Turkey's 12m Kurds, about 20% of the population, many regard "Apo", as Mr Ocalan is known, as a hero. There could be a serious backlash if the death sentence were carried out.

Turkey's European allies have long urged it to find a political, rather than a military, solution to the Kurdish conflict, which has claimed almost 30,000 lives since the PKK began its armed struggle in the mid-1980s.

But over recent months, the Turkish authorities have been convinced they had the PKK on the run. Now, with the capture of its leader, they appear to be in no mood to make concessions to Kurdish nationalism.

On the contrary, in the current triumphalist mood, the chances of a political solution have become even more remote.

In keeping with this mood, the authorities will seek to extract the maximum political benefit from Mr Ocalan's trial.

They will hope that he will make confessions which will discredit his organisation. This is already leading his supporters, together with human rights groups, to warn against the danger that he will be tortured.

Turkish officials dismiss such fears out of hand. They insist Turkish justice will be both fair and transparent.

Even so, one or two of them have already admitted privately that the capture of Mr Ocalan is a mixed blessing for Turkey.

Turkey could face heightened security problems both at home and abroad as a result of protests by Kurds. And the trial and sentencing of the PKK leader will throw an unwelcome spotlight on the Turkish judicial system and the country's human rights record.

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