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Tuesday, 13 July, 1999, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Face to face with Ocalan
By Ankara Correspondent Chris Morris

Getting to the trial of Abdullah Ocalan wasn't easy. There was the retina scan, the fingerprinting, the check for any suspicious trace of explosives.

All before you got on a boat to take you to the most heavily-guarded prison in the world.

At four million lira for a return trip, it was a bargain.

Imrali island looked pretty pleasant at that time of year - a rocky outcrop topped with green, sitting pretty in the middle of the Sea of Marmara.

It's usually a relaxed open prison, where inmates spend their time herding sheep or looking after the cattle.

All that changed in February, when Turkey captured its most wanted man. Abdullah Ocalan has been the only inmate on the island for more than three months.

Quite how a Kurdish snatch squad would try to rescue him isn't clear - but the Turkish authorities are taking no chances.

Our boat to the island was accompanied by a Coast Guard cutter and a naval frigate.

Helicopters buzzed overhead and did some fancy low-level manoeuvres to keep themselves busy.

Soldiers everywhere

As we approached the island I wondered who had placed the strange fence posts at every few metres along the shore and on the hilltops.

Getting closer I realised the fence posts were armed, and they were really Turkish soldiers. Mr Ocalan's prospects of escape were not looking good.

There was another quick check of the retinas - and it took me several tries to persuade the machine that I hadn't swapped eyes on the journey across the water.

We were then escorted up a fenced-off path and given paper and pencils. We weren't allowed to bring our own.

The courtroom used to be a prison cinema - fairly appropriate for a scene which felt like something out of James Bond. It was hastily converted, with wood panelling and a soothing shade of lilac on the walls.

The turnstiles to get inside would put most football grounds to shame.

Glass cubicle

Abdullah Ocalan appeared suddenly and without ceremony through a side door. Wearing a grey-green suit and blue shirt, he looked rather well and had clearly lost a bit of weight during his three months in custody.

Ocelan denied ordering attacks on civilians
Ocalan in his glass cell
He was placed in a bullet-proofed glass cubicle apparently designed to withstand the impact of a small bomb.

His is perhaps the most famous face in Turkey, and this was the first time he had been seen in public since his arrest.

He glanced around the courtroom, shuffled on his chair and scratched his head. The small audience looked on, transfixed.

Relatives of soldiers killed fighting against the PKK sat face to face with the man they blame for all their grief. Some of them were draped in Turkish flags and holding photographs of lost husbands and sons.

And finally it was down to business - the serious business of putting Mr Ocalan on trial for his life. He listened intently but impassively as prosecutors read out a damning indictment against him.

Murder, treason, armed revolt, extortion - it was all there.

The PKK leader didn't look too concerned. He apologised for any suffering he had caused, but declared that his trial had no legal value.

'Rambling speech'

Instead, he launched into a political defence - a rambling speech lasting for more than an hour which appeared to take even his own lawyers by surprise.

He called for peace, and an end to armed struggle, but suggested that the Turkish state had to meet the PKK half way.

But neither time nor public opinion are on Mr Ocalan's side. Many people have been waiting impatiently for his execution.

Until the Ocalan era, Imrali's most famous resident was the former Turkish Prime Minister, Adnan Menderes, who was incarcerated there with the rest of his cabinet after a military coup in 1960.

For Mr Ocalan, not an encouraging precedent: a year later, Mr Menderes and two associates were executed on Imrali just before elections to restore parliamentary rule.

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