Italy Encouraged by Ocalan Statement

ROME (Reuters)–Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema on Tuesday welcomed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan’s repudiation of guerrilla violence–saying it was the minimum requirement for political asylum to be considered in his case.

D’Alema was speaking as around 5,000 Kurds from all over Europe marched through the Italian capital to press for Ocalan’s release from Italian custody–paralyzing traffic around the Coliseum and along the site of the ancient Roman Forum.

"The rejection of any terrorist action is the minimum and indispensable condition" for his appeal for political asylum to be examined–D’Alema told the lower house of parliament.

In a statement–Ocalan–leader of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)–said: "I am ready to do my part to halt terrorism. I have come to Italy…to create the conditions for a political solution (to the Kurdish question)."

Ocalan–Turkey’s most wanted man for nearly 20 years–was arrested at Rome’s Fiumicino airport on Thursday. He is being closely guarded at an undisclosed location in or near Rome.

Turkey has asked for his extradition but under the Italian constitution authorities cannot send a suspect back to a country where the death penalty is still in force.

The Turkish government holds Ocalan responsible for the deaths of 30,000 people during the PKK’s campaign for self-rule. Ministers have said a draft bill on the abolition of capital punishment was to be passed soon.

Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz on Monday branded Ocalan a murderer and said any country harboring him was unworthy to be termed a country of justice.

Just short of bridling–D’Alema said Italy would not cower under pressure or give in to blackmail.

He said the struggle of the Kurdish people was an ancient and complex problem and in its entirety could not be regarded solely in a terrorist context.

His commen’s were interpreted in the Italian press as being inclined towards the granting of political asylum–though the prime minister stressed Ocalan’s case would be considered by the relevant commission of the interior ministry and not him.

Referring to Ocalan’s declaration against violence–D’Alema told deputies: "This statement will have to be checked given that our country has no intention of being host to any terrorist cells or anyone who wants to organize terrorist action from Italy against another country."

Most of the parties making up D’Alema’s center-left coalition government oppose Ocalan’s extradition to Turkey but the prime minister insisted the case could only be examined by Rome’s Court of Appeals. He said the formal extradition request from Turkey had not yet been delivered to Italy.

Italian international lawyer Paolo Iorio told Reuters Television that if Italy decided to extradite Ocalan it would only do so after receiving a guarantee that his sentence would be commuted to life imprisonment.

Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro weighed in on Tuesday–saying he was completely at ease over the case and that it would be dealt with by the normal legal channels.

Asked if Ocalan’s position could help resolve the Kurdish issue–he replied: "Certainly–this case–like many others–is useful for acknowledging the rights of a people to which they have title."

Germany also has an international arrest warrant out for Ocalan but Germany’s new Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer–a Green Party member–said the Ocalan case was a matter for Italy and Turkey to resolve.

Fischer had talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem in Rome on Monday at which he stressed the Ocalan case could help to start debate on a lasting solution to the Kurd problem.

The Kurdish question and concern over human rights are among factors that have militated against Turkish membership of the European Union.

Greece’s Deputy Foreign Minister George Papandreou said the EU could not leave Italy in the lurch over the Ocalan case–saying the Kurd issue was a European problem which the EU and Turkey must tackle together.

"If we are to act responsibly as the European Union–we need to take this issue up and see if we can find ways with the Turkish government–to deal with this in a more appropriate manner according to our common values and common positions," he told Reuters in an interview.

Meanwhile in Yuksekova–Turkey–a Kurdish woman killed herself and wounded six people on Tuesday in a suicide bomb attack outside a police station in southeast Turkey.

Security officials have warned that PKK members could attempt spectacular attacks in response to Ocalan’s.

"A woman terrorist set off a bomb strapped to her body as she was crossing the road outside the guard headquarters around 9 a.m.," said Tacettin Ozeren–local governor of Yuksekova.

Ozeren said the explosion wounded four non-commissioned officers and two passers-by. "A 13-year-old boy and one of our officers are in serious condition," he told Reuters by telephone from the town near the Iranian border.

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