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Wednesday, 12 January, 2000, 14:41 GMT
Analysis: Turkey's Ocalan dilemma

Bulent Ecevit Turkish PM Bulent Ecevit opposes the death penalty


By regional analyst Pam O'Toole

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's Democratic Left party and the ultra right-wing Nationalist Action party (MHP) were never likely to see entirely eye to eye on the issue of Abdullah Ocalan.

While they have worked successfully together since last year's elections, they have very different powerbases and political agendas.

Mr Ecevit, who is in favour of abolishing Turkey's death penalty, argues that it is not in Ankara's interests to execute Ocalan, the head of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who was convicted of treason last year and condemned to death.

The Ocalan File
He says Turkey is bound, under international obligations, to obey the European Court of Human Rights' call to stay the Kurdish leader's execution until it has considered an appeal lodged by his lawyers.

He has succeeded in persuading many fellow politicians, including the leader of the most junior coalition party, that Ocalan could do more harm dead than alive.

If Ocalan were to be hanged, it would be Turkey's first execution since 1984.

It would damage Turkey's relations with the European Union, putting back Ankara's bid for membership only a month after it succeeded in being recognised as a formal candidate for admission.

Abdullah Ocalan Ocalan was sentenced to death in June 1999


It could also reignite troubles in the largely Kurdish southeast, which have died down since last summer's prison call from Ocalan for the PKK to halt its 15-year armed conflict and withdraw from Turkish soil.

A prominent PKK commander recently told a pro-Kurdish newspaper that Ocalan's execution could provoke a renewed war between Turks and Kurds.

But the Nationalist Action Party, under pressure from its own ultra-nationalist supporters, has a different perspective.

Its strong electoral performance last year has been linked with its public campaign for the PKK leader's execution.

An earlier suggestion that the MHP leader, Devlet Bahceli, might back a stay of execution for Ocalan is reported to have led to a storm of protest from MHP supporters, including families of Turks killed by the PKK.

Save face

Prominent MHP politicians have recently called for the Ocalan file to be sent to parliament and for the PKK leader to be executed.

But many analysts believe the MHP leadership's hardline position may largely be posturing designed for internal domestic consumption.

While the party's leaders will be keen to assure their supporters that they have not gone soft on the Ocalan issue, they also realise that a public confrontation could damage, or even destroy, the coalition.

The search is now on for a compromise to avoid pushing the issue to a parliamentary vote while allowing the MHP leadership to save face with its electorate.

During Wednesday's meeting Prime Minister Ecevit is likely to use reports from Turkey's security services to back his arguments that Ankara's interests would not be served by an execution.

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See also:
09 Jan 00 |  Europe
Turkish PM: Suspend Ocalan execution
07 Jan 00 |  Europe
Turkish leaders split over Ocalan
30 Dec 99 |  Europe
Ocalan appeal rejected
25 Nov 99 |  Europe
Ocalan: Which way now?
25 Nov 99 |  Europe
Kurds pin hopes on Europe
24 Jun 99 |  Europe
Hatred for Ocalan runs high
01 Jun 99 |  Europe
Turkey's trial of the century

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