Europe Warns Turkey Against Executing Ocalan

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–Europe sent clear signals to Turkey on Thursday that executing Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan would be a choice between taking revenge or a major step toward European Union membership.

European reaction to a Turkish appeals court ruling which upheld a death sentence imposed on the guerrilla chief was uniformly negative–but governmen’s and human rights groups hoped it would not be the last word.

There was no immediate sign of the widespread organized violence by the Kurdish Diaspora in Europe which accompanied major decisions about Ocalan’s fate in the past.

But in a sign that popular support for hanging Ocalan still runs high–Turks who feel he must die for the thousands of killings he incited forced their way into a human rights office in Ankara and–according to officials there–beat up rights activists.

The court’s decision leaves Ocalan’s life in the hands of Turkey’s leaders–who have the power to commute the sentence–and the European Court of Human Rights.

Turkey effectively has 14 days to make its intentions clear before a crucial EU summit in Helsinki on December 10-11–at which European leaders were expected to accept Turkey as a candidate for membership of the Union.

Both the 15-member EU and the 41-member Council of Europe made clear to Turkey on Thursday that relations would suffer a major setback if Ocalan suffered the death penalty.

Javier Solana–the EU’s new foreign policy chief–told Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem in Brussels that his country could not expect to be part of the European family if it executed Ocalan.

"I told him we were very disappointed with the result this morning," Solana said. "The European countries attach great importance to the abolition of the death penalty."

"Therefore it would be very difficult–not to say impossible–to be part of the family of European countries if you maintain the death penalty," Solana told Reuters Television.

Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen of Finland–which currently holds the EU presidency–said: "On behalf of the EU–I can say that our wish is that this is not the last word."

Lipponen called for "positive signals from Turkey to allow us to maintain the good atmosphere that has emerged concerning its EU candidacy."

Italy–which faced a diplomatic dilemma when Ocalan arrived on its doorstep seeking asylum a year ago–urged Turkey not to hang the leader.

"The prime minister and foreign minister…ask that the sentence not be carried out–considering Turkey has not applied the death penalty since 1984," the government said in a statement.

Greece–which harbored Ocalan secretly at its embassy in Kenya until he was snatched by Turkish security–said it hoped the death sentence would not be carried out.

A spokesman in Germany–home to 2.5 million expatriate Turks and Kurds–called for a "wise and far-sighted decision."

In Moscow–the Itar-Tass news agency quoted a foreign ministry source as saying Russia "would like to hope that the lofty principles of humanness will prevail in the case of Abdullah Ocalan."

Turkey’s hopes for a place in the EU have in the past been blocked partly over concern about its human rights record and treatment of the Kurdish minority.

But a recent rapprochement with its old foe Greece has transformed the climate and made Turkey’s EU candidacy less unlikely.

Thursday’s warnings may aim to make clear to the Turkish public–as much as the government–just how much is at stake.

In Strasbourg–the Council of Europe said Ocalan’s procedural rights at the appeal stage had been respected but that did not alter its opposition to his execution. Turkey is a Council member.

Ocalan must not be executed while his plea to the European Court of Human Rights is pending–Finland’s Gunnar Jansson said.

The Court could convene next Tuesday to ask Turkey to suspend execution until it has ruled on Ocalan’s plea that the European Convention of Human Rights guarantees his right to life.

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