Turk Coalition Allies at Odds Over Ocalan

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and his biggest parliamentary ally disagreed in public on Friday over whether to push for the execution of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Nationalist leader Devlet Bahceli told supporters in the southern town of Osmaniye that he backed the death penalty for Ocalan and rejected warnings that an execution would damage Turkey’s hopes of becoming a full European Union member.

"The separatist murderer was sentenced to death by independent justice in the name of the Turkish people," Bahceli said in televised remarks.

The man at the center of the row–condemned fighters chief Ocalan–issued a statement from his prison cell warning of "tragedies" if his calls for peace based on talks with his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) are ignored.

Bahceli–a deputy prime minister whose hardline nationalists are Ecevit’s major coalition partner–attacked those who linked Turkey’s future in Europe to Ocalan’s fate.

"Knowingly or unknowingly–those of such a stance belittle their country. They should clearly understand that they are awaking irreparable doubts about our nation," he said. Cost of Hanging

Many Turks say that Ocalan should hang as soon as possible for leading a violent 15-year campaign for a separate Kurdish state. More than 30,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

But Ecevit–speaking in Ankara–said that the government had to calculate the cost of executing Ocalan–waiting on death row in an isolated island jail.

"Abdullah Ocalan cannot hurt us now. But I fear his death could damage us at home and abroad," Ecevit–personally opposed to capital punishment–told reporters.

The EU has told Ankara that an execution would gravely damage ties. It could also end a lull in fighting between Turkish forces and the PKK since Ocalan ordered his guerrillas to abandon the armed struggle and campaign peacefully for Kurdish cultural rights.

Ocalan warned of the consequences if Turkey continues to refuse talks with the PKK.

"I do not wish for it but if a lack of solution is insisted upon–tragedies could result," he said in a statement released through his lawyers.

Ecevit–Bahceli and a third coalition partner meet on January 12 to discuss whether to wait for the European Court of Human Rights to rule on Ocalan’s appeal before sending the death verdict to parliament for ratification.

"We will discuss together what we think about the – in my opinion binding – decision of the European Court of Human Rights," Ecevit said.

Despite their disagreement–Ecevit and Bahceli appear unwilling to break up a stable coalition government that last month signed an inflation-fighting loan package with the IMF.

Any death verdict has to be ratified in parliament if it is to be carried out–something Turkey has not done since 1984.


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