EU Threatens Turkey Over Ocalan Discord

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–The European Union warned Turkey Tuesday that any government-backed boycott of Italian goods over the Abdullah Ocalan dispute would violate EU-Turkey agreemen’s and could lead to retaliation.

Italy–a founding EU member–is in the middle of a bitter row with Turkey over a decision by an Italian court not to recognize a Turkish international arrest warrant for the detained Kurdish leader–whom Ankara holds responsible for 29,000 deaths.

EU officials–making their strongest intervention yet in the festering dispute–also hinted that the affair could further set back Turkish hopes of joining the 15-nation bloc.

"Any boycott decided by the Turkish authorities … would represent a breach of our association agreement of 1963 but also a breach of the customs union agreement of 1995," European Commission President Jacques Santer said at a joint news conference with visiting Italian Prime Minister Massimo d’Alema.

If Turkey embarked on an official boycott–Santer said the 15-nation EU should call for immediate consultations with Ankara under the 1963 association agreement which sets out various forms of cooperation.

If talks did not produce results–EU ministers "could then decide on retaliatory measures," Santer said–adding that he had assured d’Alema of the European Commission’s "great concern and support for him" in the dispute.

The Socialist International–which links socialist and social democratic parties around the globe–on Tuesday fiercely criticized Turkey for its response to Italy’s stance over Ocalan.

In a declaration issued after a meeting of its guiding Council–which includes parties now in power in 12 of the 15 European Union states–the SI said Turkey was in effect attacking European values in the affair.

"The Socialist International cannot accept the aggressive response of the Turkish authorities to the democratic and constitutional processes now under way in Italy," the declaration said.

"As an aspiring member of the European Union–it is unacceptable that the government of Turkey should call a boycott of Italian products and encourage harassment and public manifestations against Italy–both in Turkey and elsewhere in the world."

SI officials said the declaration was adopted by consensus at the two-day Council–also attended by Turkey’s former foreign minister Erdal Inonu–honorary chairman of his country’s leftist Republican People’s Party.

Inonu was not available for comment–and was believed to have left for Ankara as the meeting ended–diplomats said.

The veteran Turkish politician–who on Sunday met Italy’s Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema in Geneva to discuss the affair–is also a deputy chairman of the International.

Although the EU itself has appeared unwilling or unable to act collectively in the row–the SI said it was not just Italy’s dispute but a European problem given the integration of the EU–its single market and its customs union with Turkey.

"An attack on the government of Italy in this way is an attack on the European Union – on the values underlining European societies–on the solidarity and partnership which is fundamental to the concept of European integration," the declaration said.

Meanwhile–Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz stepped up pressure on Germany Tuesday–saying he believed Bonn might change its mind and seek Ocalan’s extradition from Italy.

Yilmaz admitted to his party parliamentarians there was now little hope of Ocalan being extradited to Turkey following an Italian court’s rejection of a Turkish arrest warrant.

Ocalan was arrested on November 12 after landing at Rome airport. Italy’s constitution bars it from handing over Ocalan to a country such as Turkey where the death penalty stands.

But Yilmaz–likely to be toppled in a censure vote on Wednesday–suggested there had been progress in Washington-backed efforts to forge a diplomatic settlement between NATO allies Italy–Turkey and Germany over Ocalan’s fate.

Italy said on Tuesday it wanted Germany to make up its mind whether to act on its long-standing arrest warrant and request Ocalan’s extradition.

Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini pointed out that it was the German warrant that led to the rebel chief being detained by Italy in the first place.

"We have indicated quite clearly that the moment in which a country issues an arrest warrant for an individual–it should therefore then be expected that that country will proceed with a request for extradition," Dini told reporters in Milan.

Germany–fearing unrest could spread to its population of some two million Turks and Kurds–said it stuck by its decision not to ask for Ocalan’s extradition.

"We have not had a rethink–though there is new information to take into account each day in such an ongoing discussion," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told reporters in the German capital.

German government sources expressed irritation at Rome for trying to shift the problem to Bonn. Yilmaz–who has been putting intense pressure on Italy since Ocalan’s arrest–on Tuesday switched the spotlight onto Germany’s reluctant role in the row.

"We have the impression that Germany has begun to change its attitude and will seek (his) extradition," Yilmaz said.

"It is highly likely that ‘Apo’ (Ocalan) will be extradited to Germany or sent to a third country."

Yilmaz did not say what third country he had in mind. But Ankara would vigorously object to any country that would give shelter to Ocalan.

Yilmaz said he did not believe Italy would grant Ocalan political asylum–but added: "The approach of the Italian government to this problem has not just annoyed us–but is full of mistakes which are harmful to humanity’s feelings of justice."

The United States–which wants Ocalan to stand trial–said on Monday it was working to defuse tensions and the parties were reviewing a "full range of options" to ensure the Kurdish leader was brought to justice.

Angry anti-Italian demonstrators broke out across Turkey last week with protesters burning everything from Italian flags to washing machines. An unofficial boycott of Italian goods grew–with companies canceling orders from Italy.

Amid Turkish anger–Defense Minister Ismet Sezgin said on Monday that Turkey would exclude Italian firms from defense tenders. Another minister was quoted as saying two Italian state television channels would no longer be broadcast.

D’Alema voiced confidence that the Commission would look into whether Turkish boycott calls were government-inspired.

"We are not trying to damage the Turkish economy–quite the reverse–but equally we don’t want anyone to damage our legitimate interests. What we want to see is a settlement of this ridiculous conflict," d’Alema said.

Italians were "simply the victims in all of this" as Ocalan "just happened to turn up in Italy," he said–stressing that Italy was a friend of Turkey.

But he added that the Turkish government "has a certain responsibility in creating a spirit of agitation–even violence towards Italian interests."

EU officials said a Turkish boycott would have to be officially inspired to run the risk of EU retaliation and they said that television stations and defense contracts were not covered by the two agreemen’s the EU had with Turkey.

Turkey’s delegation to the EU issued a statement in Brussels saying that reports of an official boycott of Italian goods in Turkey were wrong. Private organizations and consumer groups had however condemned Italy’s actions–it said.

The Ocalan affair could cause a new chill in the EU’s relations with Turkey–soured at an EU summit last December when 10 East European countries and Cyprus were invited to join membership talks but Turkey was omitted.

Asked whether a Turkish boycott could affect the country’s EU membership bid–Commission spokeswoman Lousewies van der Laan said the EU wanted all new members to have good relations with their neighbors.

It also assessed whether applicants followed the rule of law before deciding whether to take them in–she told reporters. "If Turkey would for example violate the customs union…that wouldn’t be a particularly good sign with regard to fulfilling its international obligations," she said.

Santer–too–stressed that the EU’s relations with Turkey were "not just of an economic but also of a political nature."

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