Crackdown on Kurds Continues Despite Western Warnings

TUNCELI–Turkey (Reuters)–Turkey on Thursday brushed aside international concern for the impending trial of detained Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan and pursued a military and legal crackdown on Kurdish dissent.

Countries across Europe have urged that Ocalan receive a fair trial on charges of treason. But Turkey–a member of NATO–told its allies not to interfere.

"Everyone should respect the independence of the judiciary," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "For this reason–the Turkish Republic will not tolerate any influence or interference in the independence of the judiciary."

Newspapers said Ocalan–51–now under questioning at a prison on the island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmara–was due to appear in court for an initial hearing in the next 12 days.

Ocalan was already being tried in his absence for treason in three separate cases. The papers said he would probably be called on to face a single trial on the high-security island–but added that it might not start for several months.

Ocalan–widely reviled by Turks–faces the death sentence if convicted–but Turkey has not executed anyone since 1984.

Since his arrest–4,000 Turkish troops backed by air power have pushed more than 15 km (nine miles) into northern Iraq to attack Ocalan’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members–demoralized by the arrest in Kenya this week of their leader.

Inside Turkey–police detained more than 350 supporters of the main legal Kurdish party–the People’s Democracy Party (HADEP)–in raids on its offices in Istanbul and many others in the mainly Kurdish southeast–human rights activists said.

Ocalan–whose forces have been fighting for Kurdish self-rule in the southeast since 1984–was whisked out of hiding in Kenya by Turkish special forces and brought to Turkey for trial.

Turkish troops poured over the rugged border on Wednesday to attack PKK sites in Iraq’s Metina mountains. Security officials in the town of Tunceli in eastern Turkey said five Kurds had died in clashes near a large base known as Zab camp.

"The operation will continue until its aims have been met. The terrorists are in a state of panic and don’t know what to do," the security official said.

He said the raid was timed to strike a blow after Ocalan’s arrest–which sparked widespread Kurdish protests in Europe.

An Iraqi Kurdish group allied to Turkey against the PKK said the rebels were badly supplied and unable to launch attacks.

"This is because of the extremely difficult position they are in without logistical support and with the harsh winter weather," the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s Ankara spokesman Safeen Dizayee told Reuters.

The leader of a second Iraqi Kurdish group called for Ocalan’s trail to be fair–echoing Western concerns.

Turkey is often criticized for its human rights record.

Turkish US-built Cobra helicopter gunships fired rockets at suspected rebel targets. Turkey often attacks PKK mountain bases in northern Iraq–which has been outside Baghdad’s control since the 1991 Gulf War.

Turkey’s army has kept a semi-permanent presence in northern Iraq in recent years and limits media access to the area.

Ankara says the PKK is almost defeated militarily and predicts Ocalan’s detention will finish the group off. In the his absence analysts say day-to-day control will be taken up by Ocalan’s brother–Osman–and senior commander Cemil Bayik.

Legal authorities are also probing the legal People’s Democracy Party’s (HADEP) for alleged links to the Kurds.

Police rounded up hundreds of members this week.

"About 350 people were detained in Istanbul and many more in the southeast region for which we do not have an exact tally," said an official of the Human Rights Association.

Meanwhile–Kurdish protesters ended their occupation of the Greek embassy in London on Thursday as three Greek government ministers were forced to resign over Ocalan’s capture.

Kurdish protesters occupied more than 20 Greek and Kenyan missions around the world after Turkish special forces on Monday spirited Ocalan to Turkey from Nairobi.

Most of the occupations ended on Wednesday night–although Kurdish fury spilled over into a second night of firebombing against Turkish targets across Germany and the storming of the regional United Nations headquarters in Vienna on Thursday.

In London–more than 70 Kurds ended a three-day sit-in at the Greek mission peacefully. They stormed the Greek mission in west London on Tuesday–taking a clerk hostage and threatening to set themselves on fire if police intervened.

A Greek government spokesman’said three ministers resigned amid heavy criticism over the harboring of Ocalan in Nairobi and his subsequent capture by Turkey–an act viewed in Greece as humiliation at the hands of an arch-rival.

"The prime minister asked for the resignation of Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos–Public Order Minister Philipos Petsalnikos and Interior Minister Alekos Papadopoulos–which were submitted," Dimitris Reppas told reporters.

Greece admitted on Tuesday that Turkey’s most wanted man had landed at a Greek airport on his way to Kenya.

Kurdish activists ended a four-hour sit-in at the UN headquarters in the Austrian capital after presenting deman’s that the United Nations ensure Ocalan’s safety.

About 200 Kurdish protesters marched in silence in Berlin to mourn three Kurds killed by security guards on Wednesday as they tried to storm the Israeli consulate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the guards fired in self-defense.

Fresh violence was feared in Berlin after city authorities banned a rally planned before the march. Germany is home to 500,000 Kurds and more than two million Turks.

Turkish newspapers said Ocalan–51–under questioning at a prison on the island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmara–was due to appear in court for an initial hearing in the next 12 days.

"The questioning will be careful and the trial will be fast," the mainstream daily Milliyet said.

Ocalan was already being tried in his absence for treason in three separate cases. The papers said he would probably be called on to face a single trial on the high-security island–but added that it might not start for several months.

Ocalan faces a possible death sentence if convicted–although Turkey has not executed anyone since 1984.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it would not tolerate any foreign interference in the trial.

Turkey wasted no time in driving home criticism of Greece for sheltering a man it views as a terrorist and mass murderer.

Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said Pangalos’s resignation was "a good thing."

Ocalan’s main lawyer–Britta Boehler–was quoted on Thursday as saying the US Central Intelligence Agency was involved in his capture. She heads a team of three lawyers who were turned away by Turkish authorities at Istanbul airport on Wednesday.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg said Ocalan had complained that Turkey has violated his rights to a fair trial and his right to protection from torture.

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