EU Set for Strife With Turkey over Ocalan

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters)–The European Union–in a move likely to worsen already rocky relations with Ankara–said on Monday it expected Turkey to give Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan a fair trial and to let international observers attend.

A meeting of EU foreign ministers also said that while they accepted Turkey’s territorial integrity–they expected it to resolve its problems by political means with full respect for human rights.

Turkey–furious that arch-rival and EU member Greece secretly sheltered Ocalan for 12 days before his arrest in Kenya last week–has already warned the 15-nation bloc not to try to exert pressure on it.

Ankara says there will be a fair trial for Ocalan–whom it blames for more than 29,000 deaths in 14 years of armed conflict for self-rule in the mainly Kurdish southeast–but this has not convinced campaigners who condemn its human rights record.

"The European Union takes note of the assurances of the Turkish government that Abdullah Ocalan will have a fair trial," the EU ministers said in a statement.

"It expects this to mean fair and correct treatment and an open trial according to the rule of law before an independent court–with access to legal counsel of his choice and with international observers admitted to the trial."

The Ocalan affair is rapidly becoming a major irritant in the EU’s relations with Turkey–which wants to join the bloc but is angry that no firm date has been set for accession talks.

German deputy foreign minister Hans-Dietrich von Ploetz declined to respond when asked whether the EU could have handled the affair better–but officials said Greece had come under some fire behind closed doors.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou admitted Athens should have told the EU it was sheltering Ocalan. But he noted the bloc had been unable to decide what to do with Ocalan as he flew around Europe looking for refuge.

"He was a hot potato being thrown from one lap to another," he told reporters.

Papandreou said he was satisfied with the ministers’ statement and that he hoped Turkey would seek a solution to the Kurdish problem once and for all.

"If not–I fear (the situation) spiraling into further destabilization–further problems," he said in commen’s which were likely to infuriate Ankara.

He denied Turkish charges that Greece had allowed "terrorist organizations"–meaning Ocalan’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)–to operate from its territory and said Athens had helped Ocalan for purely humanitarian reasons.

Turkish President Suleyman Demirel said on Monday that Greece should be classed a state that sponsors terrorism. And the daily Hurriyet said Ocalan had told Turkish prosecutors that Greece had given the PKK long-term–substantial support.

The EU ministers reiterated their "condemnation of all forms of terrorism" and deplored the wave of Kurdish protests which swept across Europe after Ocalan’s arrest.

"(The EU) reaffirms its position that such acts of violence are inadmissible and in no circumstances tolerable," the statement said. In the worst incident–Israeli guards killed three Kurds as protesters stormed Israel’s consulate in Berlin.

Meanwhile–several Kurds from the Kurdish community in Armenia continued their hunger-strike in front of the United Nations building in Yerevan. They demand that leader of the Kurdish Workers Party be tried by international court. However–the strikers has so far received no answer from the UN.

In an interview with Noyan Tapan–strikers said that Ocalan is a symbol of the struggle for liberation of the Kurdish people and for his sake they are ready to sacrifice everything. Kurdish women–children and men’sitting in front of the UN building in Yerevan said that the Armenian sculptor Hrachia Galstian had joined them.

On February 20 at about 3 p.m. thousands of Kurds gathered in front of the UN building and reiterated their deman’s–crying out "Turkey is fascist" and "Freedom to Ocalan."

The rally was also attended by a representative of the Communist Party of Armenia Robert Aharonian–who on behalf of his party voiced support for the Kurdish people and condemned Turkey’s policy of suppressing national minorities. He said that the Communist Party would call a news conference to present its stance on the Kurdish issue to the world.

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