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Friday, April 30, 1999 Published at 18:10 GMT 19:10 UK

World: Europe

Chaos erupts at Ocalan hearing

Mr Ocalan was seized by Turkish special forces last February

There have been chaotic scenes at a Turkish court as it set the trial date for Kurdish rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan, for the end of May.

The Ocalan File
Families of soldiers killed during operations against Mr Ocalan's separatist group, the PKK, hurled abuse at his lawyers across the courtroom.

Several lawyers complained they were beaten by police both inside and outside the court in Ankara.

[ image: Police guard one of Ocalan's lawyers]
Police guard one of Ocalan's lawyers
Some of the protesters draped themselves in Turkish flags and many held framed pictures of their dead - mostly officers or soldiers in uniforms. Other demonstrators chanted slogans in the surrounding streets.

Mr Ocalan is accused of treason and separatism and faces the death penalty if convicted.

The authorities blame him for the deaths of thousands of people during the PKK's 15-year campaign for a Kurdish homeland in southeast Turkey.

Chris Morris in Ankara: There were scuffles outside the court
Reports said several of Mr Ocalan's lawyers were punched when they walked into the courthouse, prompting the police to provide an escort after the hearing.

But one of the attorneys, Ercan Kanar, said the officers had shouted obscenities at them and punched and kicked them.

Foreign observers barred

The BBC's Chris Morris reports on the dramatic court scenes
The court set Mr Ocalan's trial to begin on 31 May. It will take place in a specially-built courtroom on the prison island of Imrali for security reasons. The authorities fear attacks by Turks who have lost relatives during the Kurds' fight for autonomy.

Mr Ocalan, who was not in court, is the sole prisoner on Imrali where he has been held since he was captured in Kenya two months ago.

[ image: There were angry scenes outside the court]
There were angry scenes outside the court
His lawyers say heavy security has hampered their defence preparations.

The case will be heard by three judges, two civilians and one from the military - a fact which has already attracted criticism.

A limited number of journalists will be allowed to attend, but official foreign observers will not and Turkey has warned that it will not tolerate any attempt to interfere in its judicial system.

An indictment presented on Wednesday holds Mr Ocalan responsible for all acts of violence perpetrated by his Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and blames him for the deaths of 9,818 civilians, soldiers, police officers and government-paid village guards.

Mr Ocalan was already being tried in absentia in various cases. Prosecutors say the rebel leader has confessed to his crimes.

Fight for independence

The rebel leader launched the PKK's armed struggle in 1984. More than 30,000 people have been killed in the fighting. He was arrested in February under an international warrant.

If he is sentenced to death, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party has said it will push parliament to approve the execution, something it has not done since 1984.

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