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Friday, June 4, 1999 Published at 01:03 GMT 02:03 UK

World: Europe

Ocalan pleads for mercy

The headline in this Turkish daily reads: "Let's hang him then apologise"

Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan has asked to be spared execution so that he can work for peace.

The Ocalan File
But Turks, whose relatives were killed during the 15-year-old Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) uprising pleaded for the court to pass the death sentence.

Speaking from the court on the prison island of Imrali, Mr Ocalan insisted he was not trying to save himself.

Chris Morris in Ankara: Some of his followers sense that he is on the brink of selling them out
"This is about Turkey's future. Whatever our mistakes and our sins, give us a chance. Let's unite," he said.

Legal representatives for more than 2,500 Turkish victims of the violent conflict with the PKK have also been allowed to address the court.

Many said they wanted to see the Kurdish leader executed for the charge of treason which he faces.

[ image: Ocalan: Accused of treason]
Ocalan: Accused of treason
Lawyer Cengi Erkoyuncu said: "He has caused the death of thousands. He carried out a genocide. He caused hatred among the Turkish and Kurdish people. He made fear reign...That's why he should be sentenced to death."

But the PKK said the court proceedings were a show trial, designed to belittle their leader in order to satisfy the relatives of Turkish soldiers who had died.

A statement carried by the Kurdish DEM news agency said that the trial ignored the suffering inflicted on Kurdish families by Turkish security forces.

Lawyers defending Mr Ocalan boycotted court proceedings on Thursday, because they said the Turkish authorities were not taking their security concerns seriously.

'Nationalist attacks'

They were thrown out of their hotel the day before and returned to Istanbul, saying they were unable to return to Imrali, because no hotel in the area would allow them to stay.

The defence team said they and relatives of Mr Ocalan had been staying in the nearby city of Bursa but had been forced to leave their hotel after the owner received death threats.

[ image: Ocalan's lawyers fear for their safety]
Ocalan's lawyers fear for their safety
"Facing attacks from a nationalist inspired crowd outside their hotel under the eyes of police, the attorneys and the family members of Mr Ocalan were forced to leave Bursa in a hurry," the lawyers said in a statement.

The court has asked both legal teams to begin wrapping up their cases so that the three judges hearing the trial could come to a judgement next week.

The trial began on Monday, and it has been an eventful three days of hearings.

The Kurdish leader apologised for the deaths of several thousand members of the Turkish security forces in the struggle with the PKK since 1985.

He also offered to abandon the armed struggle, but he warned the PKK, which he leads, could escalate the conflict if necessary.

Relatives of the victims of PKK attacks have also confronted Mr Ocalan in highly-charged exchanges, moving many in court, including one judge, to tears.

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