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Friday, February 26, 1999 Published at 21:26 GMT

World: Europe

Ocalan defence in tatters

Kurds around the world have protested at Mr Ocalan's arrest

There are growing fears for the fairness of the trial of captured Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

The Ocalan File
One of Mr Ocalan's 15 defence lawyers, Osman Baydemir, was taken into custody by Istanbul police on Friday, while a second member of the team, Ahmet Zeki Okcuoglu resigned.

Chris Morris in Ankara: "Extraordinary circumstances are bound to increase concern abroad"
There were reports that three other lawyers were also detained, but Turkish human rights monitors said they could not confirm the reports.

The BBC Ankara Correspondent, Chris Morris, says Mr Ocalan's legal defence is in disarray before it has even begun.

Mr Ocalan, who has led an armed campaign for Kurdish self-rule in south-east Turkey, is awaiting trial on charges of treason and could face the death penalty.

Chris Morris reports: Turkey insists the trial will be free and fair
The Anatolia news agency reported on Friday that the first trial hearing for Mr Ocolan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) will be held on 24 March in the Ankara State Security Court.

'Death threats'

Mr Okcuoglu told reporters he was withdrawing from the case "because my life is in danger and I am unable to do my job."

Mr Okcuoglu said he, his colleagues and their families had received death threats.

He was one of two lawyers allowed to visit Mr Ocalan on the heavily-guarded prison island of Imrali on Thursday "in the presence of a magistrate and two masked soldiers", he said.

[ image: Mr Ocalan could face the death penalty]
Mr Ocalan could face the death penalty
Mr Okcuoglu and his colleague Hatice Korkut were booed as they arrived and then returned to Mudanya, across from Imrali, by a group of protesters waving Turkish flags and shouting anti-Ocalan slogans.

The pair saw the rebel leader for just 20 minutes - Mr Ocalan's first contact with the outside world since he was caught in Kenya nearly two weeks ago.

But he was not allowed to speak with the rebel leader in private and was only permitted to ask about his health. There was no opportunity to discuss the type of defence the lawyers might try to prepare.

Mr Okcuoglu said that Mr Ocalan appeared to be physically well: "He appeared to be alright, but he complained about problems in his eyes and ears."

But he warned that the rebel leader "could experience a deep psychological collapse if he is always in the presence of interrogators from the General Staff and is unable to have contact with the outside world".

Mr Okcuoglu is one of a team of 15 lawyers who have volunteered to defend Mr Ocalan. He said other colleagues were also under pressure to resign.

'Baseless' allegation

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit later dismissed Mr Okcuoglu's fears for his life as an "exaggerated allegation".

The Anatolia agency quoted him as saying: "Yes, some small groups held several demonstrations in Mudanya, but the state took the necessary measures immediately to prevent such demonstrations from disturbing the lawyers.

"Therefore I describe such an allegation as extremely baseless."

The Turkish authorities insist that the PKK leader will get a free and fair trial. But our correspondent says their promises are sounding increasingly hollow.

Many Turks do not believe the rebel leader deserves a fair trial and they hold him personally responsible for thousands of deaths. They cannot understand why foreign countries are so concerned about the way Mr Ocalan is being treated, our correspondent says.

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