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Thursday, October 21, 1999 Published at 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: Ocalan fate uncertain

Ocalan's death sentence sparked protests across Europe

By regional analyst Pam O'Toole

Turkey's appeal court has yet to give its ruling on the death sentence pronounced against Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan on 25 November.

The Ocalan File
Meanwhile, a lot has changed since Ocalan's conviction on treason and separatism charges last June.

Although relatives of Turkish soldiers killed by his PKK movement still attended the appeal court hearing, demanding he be put to death, a lot of the initial heat has disappeared from the debate over his future.

To a certain extent, Turks have had time to get used to the idea of Ocalan being imprisoned.

The PKK issue has slipped from its previous place at the top of Turkey's political agenda.

[ image: Ocalan was captured by Turkish agents in Kenya]
Ocalan was captured by Turkish agents in Kenya
This is partially due to the prospect of a scaling down of the 15-year conflict between the PKK and Ankara, in which 30,000 people have died.

Not only is Ocalan himself in jail, but he has announced the withdrawal of his forces from Turkish soil and is actively pursuing peace.

The powerful Turkish military has poured scorn on such pronouncements and Ankara still refuses to deal with what it regards as a terrorist organisation.

Human rights

Nevertheless, the PKK is regarded as much less of a threat than it was at the beginning of its leader's trial and there have been suggestions that Ankara might move towards reforming its military-drafted constitution and improving its human rights record.

But the change in atmosphere also reflects major events over the past few months.

August's devastating earthquake in Turkey and a sea-change in relations between Ankara and Greece have helped to reshape the political agenda.

[ image: Turkish forces have been fighting the PKK for 15 years]
Turkish forces have been fighting the PKK for 15 years
Ankara is currently focusing on a drive to ensure that it is finally recognised as a candidate for membership of the European Union at an EU summit in Helsinki this December.

Approval of its candidate status could eventually help to unlock EU funds it desperately needs to redevelop its industrial north-west region in the aftermath of the earthquake.

EU pressure

If the Appeal Court upholds Ocalan's death sentence, it will be up to Turkey's parliament to decide whether it should be carried out. If it is, it will be Turkey's first execution in more than 15 years.

If such a decision were reached quickly, it would send the wrong signal to the European Union, which has called for the sentence to be commuted.

But most analysts believe the procedure is likely to drag on for months. While many Turkish parliamentarians are strongly nationalistic, there has been speculation they might be content to delay reaching a final decision on Ocalan to avoid casting a shadow over December's Helsinki Summit.

The PKK leader's lawyers have also announced that if he loses the appeal, they will apply to the European Court of Human Rights for a stay on any execution order.

For the time being, the EU itself is likely to maintain a relatively low profile. Most European states now clearly want to begin the process of ushering Turkey into the EU fold.

They are well aware that, given the strongly nationalist nature of the current Turkish parliament, any overt pressure on Ankara over the Ocalan case would be likely to backfire.

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