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EU calls on Turkey not to execute Ocalan

There were strong calls from European leaders for clemency yesterday after a Turkish court condemned the Kurdish rebel leader…

There were strong calls from European leaders for clemency yesterday after a Turkish court condemned the Kurdish rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to death for leading separatist forces in a bitter conflict that has cost 29,000 lives in almost 15 years.

Ocalan (50) stood with his hands folded behind his back in a bullet-proof glass box in court and did not react when Judge Turgut Okyay told him he must hang for treason and mass murder.

"[He has] murdered thousands of innocent people without regard to babies, children, women or the elderly," said Judge Okyay, wearing a traditional black robe with high, scarlet collar.

EU leaders said carrying out the sentence would harm Turkey's prospects of joining the European Union, while the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Mary Robinson, expressed concern over the legal standards of the trial.

In a statement, Mrs Robinson said Ocalan had been subjected to 10 days of detention incommunicado, that his access to lawyers was severely limited, that lawyer-client confidentiality had been breached and that his lawyers were threatened and harassed.

She also expressed concern about the independence and impartiality of the trial judges.

The EU's External Relations Commissioner, Mr Hans van den Broek, emphasised the EU's opposition to the death penalty and said he hoped Turkey would take its position into account.

A French foreign ministry spokeswoman, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Italy and the British Foreign Minister, Mr Robin Cook, added to the appeals for clemency.

Russia also called on Turkey not to carry out the sentence, but a White House spokesman, Mr Joe Lockhart, calling Ocalan an "international terrorist", would not comment on the sentencing of the PKK leader.

A State Department spokesman, Mr James Rubin, said the trial had been "orderly".

European cities stepped up security to avoid a repeat of the angry protests by members of the Kurdish diaspora that followed Ocalan's arrest.

Kurds gathered for protests in Moscow, Paris, The Hague and Strasbourg, but there were no immediate reports of violence. An appeal to Strasbourg's Court of Human Rights is expected.

Ocalan was arrested by Turkish special forces in Feburary in Kenya after months on the run through Europe and Africa.