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Wednesday, June 23, 1999 Published at 06:18 GMT 07:18 UK

World: Middle East

Kurds apprehensive as Ocalan trial resumes

The Ocalan trial has raised questions over democracy in Turkey

By Chris Morris in Ankara

Tensions are running high among many Kurds as they await the resumption of the trial of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of PKK rebel movement.

The Ocalan File
He is facing the death penalty for treason, after a 15-year armed struggle against the Turkish state.

The trial, on Imrali prison island, could be over by the end of the week.

On the streets of Batman, a small town 90km from the Syrian border, people are apprehensive and the trial is the main topic of conversation.

This dusty town is typical of the south-east in many ways - part police state, but now part democracy too.

[ image:  ]
Less than three months ago, Abdullah Akin was living under constant threat of arrest and harassment.

He is a leading member of Hadep, a pro-Kurdish party which the state dismisses as the political wing of the PKK.

But in April, Mr Akin was elected mayor of Batman with a huge majority.

Hoping for peace

He says the trial is not just about Abdullah Ocalan, but about Turkey coming to terms with its past.

The BBC's Chris Morris: "The Kurds are awaiting the outcome of the trial nervously."
People in Batman are watching the trial very closely, he says, and wondering what is going to happen next.

Everyone is hoping the decision of the court will not create more violence. People are waiting for peace.

Dominoes and backgammon are popular pastimes here - there is not much else to do. Unemployment is sky high, and many people feel they have been betrayed by the state.

The security forces keep a tight grip on Batman - we were followed from start to finish by well-armed plain clothes police.

Support for Ocalan

But support for Abdullah Ocalan remains strong. He may be vilified by most Turks, but in the south-east many Kurds regard him as a hero.

[ image: The trial will resume on Imrali island]
The trial will resume on Imrali island
They back the call for peace he has made at his trial, although they fear the state will not listen.

"We did not want him to be captured, " one man in the cafe said. "We did not want him punished. We never wanted such a thing to happen to the leader of the PKK."

"All we want is that he should not be harmed, then Turks and Kurds can live together as brothers," he said.

On the edge of town, another disaffected generation is growing up. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds have been forced out of their villages in the past few years. They want recognition of what they have suffered.

"We need jobs," I was told, "but we also need respect."

Brutal struggle

The PKK's struggle has been brutal, and Turkey cannot simply forgive and forget. But people here do not want their hope for peace to disappear.

"One Abdullah Ocalan goes, and another one comes, " another man said. "What is the difference? There are martyrs, everyone feels pain. But who are the PKK in the mountains - they're all Turkey's children."

"The state," he suggests, "should ask where they came from, and why they picked up the gun."

So Batman sits and waits and watches - a little nervous about what is to come. Raw emotions have been brought to the surface by the Ocalan trial on both sides of the debate.

Some people in the south-east have no time for him, but most take a different view.

If he is executed, many Kurds will take it as a personal insult, and as a verdict against them all.

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