Ocalan says his ex-wife's splinter group may have killed Olof Palme

The Kurdish rebel leader, Mr Abdullah Ocalan, told a Turkish court yesterday his ex-wife may have been behind the 1986 killing…

The Kurdish rebel leader, Mr Abdullah Ocalan, told a Turkish court yesterday his ex-wife may have been behind the 1986 killing of the former Swedish prime minister, Olof Palme.

In the court relatives of soldiers killed in south-eastern Turkey, clutching the portraits of their loved ones, stared at the man they consider personally responsible for the death of 30,000 people killed in 15 years of conflict. Hundreds of other relatives of soldiers were demonstrating their anger in the streets of Mudanya, the fishing port close to Imrali prison island where the case is being tried.

Judge Turgut Okyay, one of a panel of three judges trying Mr Ocalan on treason charges, pressed the rebel leader on reports that his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was behind the killing, which shocked Sweden.

A lone gunman shot Palme dead at point-blank range while he was walking home with his wife in Stockholm. "This is a conspiracy that has been placed on my shoulders," Mr Ocalan told the court from a bullet-proof glass box. He denied giving any orders to kill Palme after Sweden refused asylum to former PKK members. But he said he had heard a Kurdish splinter group was responsible.


"I have received information that PKK Rejin killed Palme," he said, adding that his former wife and her new husband were behind the rival group, mainly based in Europe. "Kesire Yildirim and Huseyin Yildirim founded this organisation and wanted to develop it," he said.

Beyond vague notions of peace and democracy, he said little about the demands of the Kurdish population, but said he did not believe an independent Kurdistan was a realistic aim. Offering his services to the Turkish state, the Kurdish leader said he had realised armed struggle was not the solution and he wanted a chance to convince PKK fighters to lay down their arms.

He rejected responsibility for one of the deadliest attacks blamed on his guerrillas, a 1993 slaughter that ended a ceasefire and began a lethal escalation in Turkey's war with the rebels.

Mr Ocalan, accused of ordering the killings, said the assault was carried out by renegade guerrillas acting independently. "It is impossible to condone the death of these soldiers," he was quoted as saying.

Mr Ocalan also rejected accusations that he had given orders for bombings at some of Turkey's most popular tourist sites in the early 1990s. The bombings killed and injured several foreigners.

Asked about alleged foreign help to the PKK, he said his group received training in camps in Greece, Yugoslavia and Iran. He said Greece, Turkey's traditional rival, had also provided his fighters with weapons.

Three Ocalan defence lawyers withdraw from case

Three senior members of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan's defence team said on Tuesday they had withdrawn from the case because they said the Turkish state had ridden roughshod over normal procedure.

Ocalan appeared to take his defence into his own hands at the first session of his trial on Monday. His 12 defence lawyers largely sat and watched as Ocalan, sitting in a bullet-proof glass cage, offered to engineer the surrender of his rebel group if he was spared the death penalty.

Lawyer Ercan Kanar told Reuters he and colleagues Hasip Kaplan and Ender Buyukculha had withdrawn from the trial, which is taking place under extraordinary security measures at an island prison in the Sea of Marmara near Istanbul.

The essential reason for our withdrawal is the abandonment of the penal code in favour of the rulings of the prime ministerial crisis management centre, Kanar told Reuters.

The centre has controlled legal access to Ocalan on Imrali island, citing security concerns surrounding the man who spearheaded the 14-year-old Kurdish armed conflict for self-rule in which more than 29,000 people have been killed.

The defence team have argued that authorities have broken with Turkish law by holding Ocalan on his own island jail.

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Some 20 diplomats and observers were following the proceedings. The press has limited access: only 12 Turkish journalists and eight foreigners have access daily.

The reading of the indictment, a weighty document of 139 pages that includes a detailed list of dozens of attacks by the PKK, took several hours and nearly sent the audience to sleep. Even one of the judges was observed nodding off.

When Mr Ocalan stood up and asked to read a document he had written in his defence, no one felt sleepy any more. Early in the proceedings the Kurdish leader had announced he had not suffered ill-treatment and had not been pressured. He then went on to denounce Greece, Russia and Italy which, he said, had contributed to his "unlawful" arrest in Kenya in February.

He insisted he had not started the Kurdish problem. The issue had been around for over 200 years, he said. He likened the current situation to the uprising in 1925, and implied that now, as then, Kurds were being used by foreign powers.

His own survival was not important, Mr Ocalan said, but Turkey was facing the danger of further upheaval. Five thousand militants were ready to commmit suicide and many more would protest if he were killed.

Unexpectedly, the Kurdish leader said two former prime ministers, Mr Necmettin Erbakan of the Islamist Welfare Party and Mr Mesut Yilmaz of the conservative Motherland Party, had made indirect contact, to try and find a way to end the conflict. He also said that as late as last year a high-level military official had contacted one of his representatives in Germany.

Mr Ocalan appeared at odds with his lawyers, who could do little to defend their difficult client.

Three senior members of his defence team said yesterday they had withdrawn from the case because the Turkish state had ridden roughshod over normal procedure.