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Friday, March 5, 1999 Published at 01:05 GMT

World: Europe

Kurds re-elect Ocalan

Ocalan remains figurehead for the Kurds

By Chris Morris in Ankara

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has re-elected Abdullah Ocalan as its leader, even though he is now in Turkish custody awaiting trial on charges of treason.

The Ocalan File
A statement carried by pro-Kurdish media said the PKK's recent sixth party congress also decided that its armed struggle against the Turkish state should be intensified.

The PKK wants an independent Kurdish homeland in south-eastern Turkey.

For 20 years, Abdullah Ocalan ran the PKK with an iron hand, and he remains its figurehead leader behind bars.

The party congress was in session at the time he was captured last month, and Kurdish sources say the party has created a presidential council to run the movement in the absence of its leader.

Kurdish leaders united?

While the Kurds say senior PKK members remain united, Turkish sources suggest that splits and arguments are inevitable.

Independent information is almost impossible to obtain.

The party congress was supposed to discuss calls for moving the PKK into the political arena, but since Mr Ocalan's arrest, his supporters have been in angry and defiant mood.

Call for insurrection

The PKK has now called for a popular insurrection. Sympathisers have staged sporadic violent protests across the mainly Kurdish south-east and in Kurdish quarters of big cities every night since the arrest took place. Tight Turkish security has prevented trouble escalating.

What is not clear is whether the PKK now has the ability to carry its fight beyond the isolated mountains into which it has been pushed by incessant pressure from the Turkish military.

The PKK says it has killed a number of Turkish soldiers in the south-east over the last few days - but this claim has not been confirmed.

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