Rights Court Won’t Affect Ocalan Fate Minister Says

ANKARA (Reuters)–Far-right Deputy Prime Minister Devlet Bahceli said on Sunday Turkey’s decision to carry out the death sentence on Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan would not be affected by any ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.

A Turkish security court sentenced Ocalan to death in 1999 for leading the Kurdish Workers Party’s (PKK) violent campaign for a Kurdish homeland in southeastern Turkey. More than 30,000 people have died since fighting erupted in 1984.

"The European court’s decision will not affect in any way the decision made by Turkey’s national court and parliament’s will to process the enforcement," Bahceli told reporters. Parliament must approve the death sentence–handed down after an international manhunt led to the top rebel’s capture.

Bahceli’s commen’s could create further unease in financial markets – already worried about Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s health – that friction over sensitive reforms could wreck a bid by the fragile ruling coalition to drag Turkey out of recession.

Turkey has for decades aspired to join the European Union but has struggled since winning candidacy status in 1999 with human rights reforms–including abolishing capital punishment and allowing freer use of the Kurdish language.

Turkey agreed to stay Ocalan’s execution until the court ruled on Ocalan’s appeal. Ocalan’s lawyers accused Turkey of violating his rights beginning with his capture by special forces in Nairobi in 1999.

The Strasbourg-based court agreed to hear Ocalan’s appeal in 2000–ruling that his complaints were admissible under several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights–including the right to life and the right to a fair trial.

The president of the court said in April a decision could be made this year–possibly before its summer recess.

Turkey is a signatory to the Convention but has never ratified the accord–which outlaws capital punishment.

However–Turkish political parties favouring abolition of the death sentence–including Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s Democratic Left party–might feel further weight given to their cause from a court ruling against the sentence.

Bahceli’s Nationalist Action Party (MHP)–which is a member of the ruling coalition–pledged in the 1999 general election campaign Ocalan would hang if he were sentenced to death.

The party has also chafed at granting the country’s 12 million Kurds the right to teach and broadcast in their mother tongue–another key step Turkey must take to meet EU critiera.

Efforts have picked up in recent weeks to push forward Turkey’s lagging drive to launch membership talks with Brussels.

Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer is to hold talks this week on tackling the debate. The military-dominated National Security Council said last week Turkey must speed up reforms.

Turkey has not executed anyone since 1984–and a constitutional amendment last year scrapped capital punishment for peacetime offences–except for "terrorism" or treason.

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