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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Security Tight for Ocalan Verdict




A Turkish court is expected to sentence Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan to death Tuesday, and authorities from Ankara to Moscow are bracing for Kurdish outrage.


Turkish police were ordered to be prepared for possible airplane hijackings and attacks against embassies, consulates or tourist areas, The Associated Press quoted a police official as saying in Ankara, speaking on a customary condition of anonymity. Security will be particularly high this week around U.S. diplomatic missions, the official added.


Many Kurds believe the United States, and also Greece, quietly cooperated with NATO ally Turkey in February when Ocalan, after years as a fugitive, was arrested in Kenya as he left the Greek Embassy there.


In Moscow, where the local Kurdish community claims to number 200,000, city authorities told Kurds who had planned a protest march through the downtown area for Tuesday that they had not filed the documentation in time for a permit. The protest march was tentatively pushed back to July 1, Itar-Tass reported. On Friday, some 30 Kurdish women who tried to demonstrate on Red Square for Ocalan's freedom were removed forcibly by police.


Ocalan is reviled in Turkey as the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has led a 14-year fight for autonomy in southeastern Turkey that has left some 37,000 dead.


When his trial began this spring, however, Ocalan offered to renounce armed struggle and bring the PKK to peace negotiations. He has said he can convince his fighters to lay down their arms within three months if allowed to contact them.


A death sentence, both he and PKK rebels have warned, will lead to a bloodbath. Ocalan has warned of "thousands" of potential suicide bombers ready to blow themselves up in his name.


Ocalan is expected to make a last appeal for peace Tuesday, when he is allowed to make a final statement before the verdict is announced.


In December, as the Turkish government was stepping up its search for Ocalan, reports surfaced suggesting he was hiding in the suburbs of Moscow. The Russian authorities denied those reports. But two Kurdish men were alarmed enough at the thought that Moscow might give up Ocalan to commit suicide by self-immolation before the doors of the State Duma.


Then suddenly, in February, Ocalan was in Turkish hands, arrested off the streets of Nairobi as part of a covert operation.


Kurds responded with violent attacks and demonstrations around the world. In Turkey, they killed more than a dozen people; in Brussels, 50 Kurds seized the Greek Embassy, doused themselves with gasoline and threatened to self-immolate; in Moscow, Kurds also seized the Greek Embassy, and three did set themselves on fire.


Unmoved, the Turkish government put Ocalan on trial for treason and separatism. Ocalan surprised many by expressing repentance for his role in the PKK conflict with Ankara, although he also blamed the Turkish state for fuelling the violence by outlawing the use of Kurdish in schools or on television.


Ocalan offered to use his influence to negotiate a surrender by the rebels. But Turkish authorities have rejected his offer. If he is sentenced to death on Tuesday, as is widely expected, the case will automatically go to an appeals court. If the sentence is upheld, it must then be approved by the Turkish parliament, and later signed by President Suleyman Demirel.


After meeting Ocalan Monday, one of his lawyers, Mahmut Sakar, said the defense expected a death sentence and planned to appeal such a verdict to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.


Although Turkey has not executed a prisoner since 1984, there is widespread support in the country for hanging Ocalan. That would mean a wave of renewed human rights criticism of Ankara, however.


It will also make financial markets in Turkey even more jittery. Investors are anxious about the outcome of the trial as it coincides with International Monetary Fund talks, which Ankara hopes will pave the way to an IMF loan package.


On Saturday, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, in an effort to improve Turkey's image, ordered random checks on security forces and detention centers, which often figure in claims of torture.


Ecevit, whose new government has pledged to improve human rights, called on officials to ensure the rights of the detained, to inform families about detainees' well-being and whereabouts, to use correct interrogation procedures and not to detain people longer than the law requires.


Turkey is frequently assailed by human rights groups for alleged torture or killings by its security forces during long detention periods and for its alleged reluctance to prosecute abusive officials. Turkey denies the allegations.


This week, Turkey's Human Rights Association also elected a new president to replace Akin Birdal, who is serving a 10-month prison term for allegedly inciting "racial hatred'' in speeches he gave in support of increased Kurdish rights.


////BLOB ON In southeastern Turkey, security forces on Monday interrogated a foreign journalist for more than two hours and strip-searched her.


Amberin Zaman, a freelance journalist who writes for The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Britain's Daily Telegraph, was in the southeastern town of Kiziltepe conducting interviews with Kurds when she was detained.