Bill to spare life of Ocalan withdrawn by Ecevit

 

The Turkish government has bowed to ultra-nationalist pressure and withdrawn a draft bill granting limited amnesty to Kurdish rebels who turn themselves in, parliament sources said yesterday.

The extreme-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) in the ruling coalition objected to the Repentance Bill on the grounds that it contained a provision which would allow the death sentence imposed on the Kurdish rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to be commuted to 20 years in prison.

Ocalan (50), leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), was sentenced to death earlier this week on charges of treason, separatism and murder linked to a 15-year drive for Kurdish self-rule in south-eastern Anatolia.

The Turkish Prime Minister, Mr Bulent Ecevit, said yesterday there was "no clash of opinions between the coalition partners. The Repentance Bill still remains a priority for us." But an MHP spokesman had earlier expressed doubts about whether the bill would receive backing from the public in its present from. "How could this bill not upset the Turkish public," said the MHP deputy chairman, Mr Sevket Bulent Yahnici.

Parliamentary sources said the bill would be revised and resubmitted to parliament once it gets cabinet approval.

The Repentance Bill, which also gives education and employment opportunities to rebels who hand themselves in, was promised by Mr Ecevit after Ocalan was captured in Kenya and brought to Turkey in mid-February. The aim was to accelerate the dissolution of the PKK and end a conflict that has hit south-east Anatolia both economically and socially and claimed more than 31,000 lives.

Reuters reports from Diyarbakir:

Kurdish guerrillas loyal to Ocalan have launched attacks in retaliation against the death sentence imposed on their leader, Turkish security officials said yesterday. PKK guerrillas shot dead four people on Thursday night in an attack on a coffee house in the centre of the eastern town of Elazig - a Turkish nationalist stronghold. It was the first attack of its kind since Tuesday's sentencing.

PKK rebels also shot at policemen on guard outside a brothel in the eastern city of Van, killing one officer and wounding a second, local officials said.

Three people were slightly wounded in a bomb attack on a coffee house in Istanbul, but the identity of the assailants was not known.

The PKK has threatened to spread guerrilla violence throughout Turkey, with the emphasis on strategic economic targets.

In Elazig, two rebels opened fire with automatic weapons on the coffee house, killing four men and wounding five. Police and gendarmes shot dead one of the guerrillas and the second, a woman, was found and killed as she hid in a building site.

"They should all come and surrender otherwise they will end up like this," said the governor of Elazig province, Mr Lutfullah Bilgin, said as he pointed down to a rebel's body. Some 5,000 people marched in the city centre in protest against the attack after the Muslim Friday prayers. The crowd carried the pictures of the coffee house victims and chanted: "Hang Ocalan". They later dispersed peacefully.

Turkey says its diplomatic and military campaign has drastically reduced the rebels' support and ability to act. Mr Ecevit said yesterday that pressure from foreign capitals calling for a halt to Ocalan's execution could backfire. "Pressure from the West and foreign countries could lead an outcome which is totally opposite to what they seek," he said. The verdict is now to be considered by the appeals court and, if upheld, parliament must approve it.

Ocalan's lawyers also plan an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Turkish authorities say Ocalan's arrest threw the PKK into further disarray. The PKK has also staged rocket attacks and clashed with troops in the mountains of Turkey's mainly Kurdish south-east.

Twenty-two rebels and three soldiers were killed in two days of fighting in the remote region, an official said in Diyarbakir. He said security forces killed 18 rebels in a mountainous area in Hakkari province, bordering Iraq and Iran. Fighting had also taken place in the provinces of Batman, Bingol and Sirnak.

Rebels killed two soldiers in an ambush on a military convoy in Bingol on Thursday evening, security officials said. Two guerrillas were also killed in the fighting.

In Istanbul, a court has formally arrested two people among 10 who were earlier detained on suspicion of planning bomb attacks. The rest of the suspects were set free.

Police also seized 48 hand grenades during their arrests in some districts of the city, known as hideouts for sympathisers with Kurdish rebels and left-wing militant groups. Istanbul is home to many Kurds who have fled the violence in the south-east. Meanwhile, in Berlin, a court yesterday handed down a two-year suspended prison term to a Kurd who had stormed the Israeli embassy in Berlin during protests in February. Israeli embassy guards shot four people dead during the protests against Ocalan's arrest.