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Tuesday, 21 November, 2000, 11:53 GMT
Ocalan: Which way now?
Abdullah Ocalan and guards
Abdullah Ocalan's trial was held amid tight security
By Chris Morris in Ankara

Following a dramatic year in which Abdullah Ocalan was captured, tried and sentenced, he lost his final appeal in the Turkish legal system.

His case is now with the European Court of Human Rights, where an appeal is under way. What is not clear is how the Turkish authorities plan to proceed from this point.

Prime Minister Ecevit
Prime Minister Ecevit is under pressure to execute Mr Ocalan
Before the death sentence can actually be carried out, it has to be ratified both by the Turkish parliament and the president.

There is pressure from the grass roots to carry out the execution.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, however, is an opponent of the death penalty, and he may try to keep the Ocalan case off the parliamentary agenda for as long as possible.

He has been quoted as saying that parliament should wait until the European Court has issued its decision.

European hopes

Ocalan supporters
Mr Ocalan's supporters are determined to focus international attention on their cause
Mr Ecevit opposes capital punishment in principle, but he is also one of a growing number of Turkish officials who believe executing Abdullah Ocalan would not be in Turkey's own interests.

It could spark renewed unrest in the country's mainly Kurdish south-east, and it would also be a decisive blow against Turkey's hopes of joining the European Union.

Mr Ocalan himself is still being held as the only inmate on the prison island of Imrali, south of Istanbul, where his trial was held last year. From his prison cell, he has issued a series of orders to his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Members of the PKK agreed to observe a ceasefire and begin withdrawing from Turkish territory.

There are those within the PKK who wonder whether Mr Ocalan's strategy is the right one.

Anti-Ocalan poster
Turkish majority opinion is in favour of going ahead with the sentence
If he were to be executed, the PKK would have a martyr and an excuse to return to the battlefield.

Support for the peace initiative among ordinary Kurds in the south-east is strong. They see it as the best chance in 16 years to bring the war to an end.

There is little sign so far, though, that the state is prepared to compromise with even the most moderate of Kurdish demands.

Many people who once favoured a separate state now want little more than a range of cultural rights.
Kurdish protest
Mr Ocalan's capture sparked Kurdish protests around the world
So the fate of Abdullah Ocalan will help determine the direction in which Turkey moves over the next couple of years.

For their part, Turkey's allies abroad would like to see the government begin wide-ranging discussions with more moderate Kurdish leaders to make sure democracy actually reaches ordinary people.

The international community would be more than happy to see Mr Ocalan sidelined, but he remains the central flawed figure in this unfolding drama.

News and background on Abdullah Ocalan

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