Council of Europe Unwelcome in Turkey; Ocalan Charged With Treason

STRASBOURG (Reuters)–Hundreds of Kurds on Tuesday demanded that Council of Europe observers go to Turkey to ensure that detained Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan is well treated–but a senior Council member said Ankara turned down his visit.

Meanwhile–a Turkish judge on Tuesday charged Ocalan with treason–setting in motion a trial that could result in the guerrilla chief being hanged for the Kurds’ armed campaign for self-rule.

Ocalan’s first appearance before a judge came against a backdrop of sporadic violent Kurdish protests inside Turkey and increasing European concern that his trial should be fair.

Turkey on Tuesday rebuffed a European Union call for international observers to be allowed at the trial–arguing such formal representatives would compromise the independence of Turkey’s judiciary.

"The EU’s idea of sending observers…is not acceptable," the foreign ministry said in a statement. It said individual monitors not formally recognized by the court could follow the case–if the trial judges agreed.

No date has yet been set for the trial–expected to be held on the Imrali prison island in the Sea of Marmara where Ocalan has been jailed since he was captured in Kenya last week.

The charge of treason carries capital punishment and will probably be heard by a quasi-military court presided over by a panel of three judges–one of whom is an armed forces officer.

A group of 15 lawyers–many of them human rights activists–has been appointed to defend Ocalan–Anatolian news agency said. Passers-by screamed abuse at two of the lawyers as they boarded a boat for the Imrali prison island on Tuesday.

Turkey has launched a widespread crackdown on both the PKK and on Kurdish nationalist politicians since Ocalan’s arrest–seen by many as a significant blow to the movement.

A leaflet calling on the Kurds to surrender was scattered by helicopter over the southeastern mountains where the PKK has strongholds. Parliament is to pass a partial amnesty for "repentant" Kurds after the elections.

Police said 500 Kurds–coming from France and Germany–had gathered outside the Council headquarters in the eastern French town of Strasbourg.

The demonstrators said they expected reinforcemen’s from other European countries and would camp in Strasbourg until their deman’s had been accepted.

The 40-nation Council of Europe–of which Turkey is a member–monitors human rights and democracy in Europe.

Britain’s Lord Russell Russell-Johnston–the chairman of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly–said Ankara had told him he was not welcome to come and discuss Ocalan.

"The Turkish government has informed me that–at the present stage–they were not in favor of my visit to Ankara," he said in a statement.

"I particularly regret a missed opportunity for direct and frank dialogue between friends," he said. He added that members of the assembly would nevertheless visit Turkey in the coming weeks to monitor how Ankara’s respected its commitmen’s resulting from Council of Europe membership.

About 10 percent of the Kurdish demonstrators who crossed over the Rhine River from Germany were turned back for lacking the necessary travel documen’s.

Some of the demonstrators started camping overnight in the public park of L’Orangerie which looked like a nomads’ camp–with Kurdish flags and portraits of Ocalan.

Riot police watched nearby as a Kurdish band played traditional music and peddlers sold drinks and sandwiches. The demonstration came as Turkey authorized the Council of Europe to publish a report sharply criticized Ankara for denying political prisoners timely access to lawyers.

The report–based on an October 1997 visit to Turkey–condemned conditions of detention and said serious efforts should be undertaken to modernize police stations and hospitals.

It said Ankara had taken steps to reduce torture and other forms of prisoner abuse but had a long way to go to reach acceptable standards.

The report was released after the arrest of Ocalan which raised concerns about Turkey’s legal system. Ocalan has so far been denied access to lawyers and could face the death penalty.

Many countries have urged Turkish authorities to ensure he receives a fair trial. The Turkish government has warned the world not to interfere–and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has said he will be treated fairly.

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