Ankara bans EU observers as Ocalan is charged with treason

 

A Turkish judge charged Mr Abdullah Ocalan with treason yesterday, setting in motion a trial which could result in the rebel Kurd leader being hanged.

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

Ankara yesterday rebuffed a European Union call for international observers to be allowed attend the trial. "The EU's idea of sending observers . . . is not acceptable," the foreign ministry said.

Turkey also blocked a visit to Ankara by the parliamentary assembly president of the Council of Europe, Lord Russell-Johnston, in connection with the trial. Turkey is a member of the council.

"The Turkish government has informed that, at the present stage, they were not in favour of my visit to Ankara," said Lord Russell-Johnston. "I particularly regret a missed opportunity for direct and frank dialogue, between friends, on matters concerning the application of our organisation's norms and standards in a member-state."

Meanwhile the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg asked Turkey to explain urgently how Mr Ocalan had been arrested and whether he was being allowed legal representation.

Lawyers for Mr Ocalan were barred from entering Turkey and complained to the court that Mr Ocalan's detention violated the European Convention on Human Rights. The court delayed an interim ruling pending Turkey's response to its query.

Two Council of Europe parlimentarians hope to visit Turkey in the coming weeks, Mr Russell-Johnston said. Greece has started a court inquiry into the Ocalan affair.

Turkish troops have killed 14 of Mr Ocalan's guerrillas in fighting in the south-east of the country during the last two days, security officials said yesterday.

They said the clashes took place in the Siirt and Sirnak provinces, both under emergency rule which prevents foreign media entering the mainly-Kurdish area.

Witnesses said violence also broke out at a Kurdish protest yesterday in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir, where the emergency rule authorities are based.

A policeman was shot and slightly wounded, and baton-wielding police arrested scores of people as they broke up the gathering, witnesses said.

Turkey has launched a widespread crackdown on both the rebels and on Kurdish nationalist politicians since Mr Ocalan's arrest, seen by many as a significant blow to the movement calan he founded and personally dominated.

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

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

Athens started a court inquiry yesterday into how Mr Ocalan was allowed to slip briefly into the country earlier this month.

After Mr Ocalan's presence was discovered in Greece, and no refuge could be found for him anywhere in Europe, officials decided he should go to Kenya.

Although Greece is sympathetic to the Kurdish cause, it stopped short of offering Mr Ocalan asylum, fearing further tensions with Turkey. - The Moscow representative of the Kurdistan National Liberation Front yesterday warned Russians against visiting Turkey. Russians frolicking on inexpensive Mediterranean beaches, and small wholesale traders who come in packs to buy cheap Turkish goods, make up a considerable share of Turkish tourism.