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Sunday, February 28, 1999 Published at 12:09 GMT

World: Europe

Ocalan lawyers' fears dismissed

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

Turkish Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit, has said there was no justification for lawyers defending the jailed Kurdish separatist leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to abandon the case.

The Ocalan File
Mr Ecevit made the announcement on the Turkish commercial station, NTV, a day after two lawyers dropped out of Mr Ocalan's defence team, saying they feared for their lives.

Chris Morris in Ankara: "Extraordinary circumstances are bound to increase concern abroad"
The prime minister said he believed they had made their decision after finding nothing they could legally exploit when they visited Mr Ocalan in jail.

He said: "They failed to find something to be exploited or detect any sign of pressure or torture, so they cut short their visit."

Mr Ecevit said one of Mr Ocalan's 15 defence lawyers, Osman Baydemir, was taken into custody by Istanbul police in connection with a separate case. He was later freed. A second member of the team, Ahmet Zeki Okcuoglu, resigned.

Mr Ocalan, who has led an armed campaign for Kurdish self-rule in south-east Turkey, will go on trial on 24 March. He could face the death penalty if found guilty of treason.

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

'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: Facing the death penalty]
Mr Ocalan: Facing the death penalty
Mr Okcuoglu and his colleague Hatice Korkut were booed in Mundaya - from where they travelled to Imrali island - 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.

No health problem

The Turkish prime minister said doctors were monitoring Mr Ocalan's health "on a daily basis" and that there was no health problem that could prevent the PKK rebel from attending court hearings.

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".

Hollow promises

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.

BBC Correspondent Simon Crutchley: Security was tightened whilst the kurds' bodies were returned
On Saturday, German police said that a fourth Kurdish man injured in a shooting at the Israeli consulate in Berlin, had died.

Police said the 26-year-old man was among 16 wounded when Israeli guards fired at Kurds who stormed the embassy ten days ago. Israel said the security guards acted in self-defence.

Several thousand Kurds demonstrated peacefully for Mr Ocalan's freedom in the German cities of Mainz, Braunschweig and Kiel on Saturday. Demonstrations were also held in Paris and Switzerland.

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