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Tuesday, June 1, 1999 Published at 03:40 GMT 04:40 UK

World: Europe

Ocalan urges end to fighting

Ocalan: Held behind bullet-proof glass

The Kurdish rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan, has called for an end to the armed struggle by his group, the PKK, on the first day of his trial in Turkey.

The Ocalan File
In what he called an historic appeal for peace, Mr Ocalan said the fighting should stop and that he did not want separatism for the Kurds, but democracy.

Dressed in a jacket and open-necked shirt, he told the court from a special bullet-proof glass cage that he would work to stop the bloodshed.

"You can hang me if you like but let me solve the Kurdish problem first. You cannot do it without me," he said in an off the cuff address which lasted more than an hour.

Facing death penalty

Chris Morris in Turkey: The PKK leader was angling for a deal
Mr Ocalan is Turkey's most notorious criminal suspect and faces the death penalty for treason and murder.

He stands accused of causing the deaths of thousands during the 15-year armed struggle by the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

The BBC Turkey correspondent Chris Morris said Mr Ocalan was clearly angling for a deal with the government.

[ image: Trial sparked protests in Germany]
Trial sparked protests in Germany
But most Turks are likely to be bitterly sceptical. Relatives of soldiers killed in the conflict packed the court on the heavily-guarded prison island of Imrali to watch a man they regard as a devil.

"Hanging is too good for him," said one relative.

This first day set the tone for the whole trial, the prosecution confident that it has a mountain of legal evidence and the accused setting out an overtly political defence.

Mr Ocalan's lawyers have complained that they have been denied proper access to their client and that they themselves have been beaten by police.

Heavy security

Tom Kankinen in Turkey: Mr Ocalan said he was ready to serve the state in order to work for peace
Security has been intensified on and around Imrali island, which lies in the Sea of Marmara, 70km south of Istanbul. Mr Ocalan is the only inmate at the prison.

Heavily-armed troops are maintaining a military exclusion zone around the island; warships and helicopters are also on patrol. During the trial, Mr Ocalan is sitting inside a specially-built bullet-proof glass cage.

Mr Ocalan's arrest and trial has polarised opinion in Turkey.

His supporters were outraged when he was captured in February and brought back to Turkey under restraints. There were angry Kurdish protests in cities across the world.

The trial has prompted debate in Turkey over military trials.

The European Court for Human Rights has repeatedly stressed that civilians should not be tried by a serving military officer because it undermines the independence of the court process.

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