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Turkey Detaines Third Kurdish Mayor

February 20, 2000

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ Turkey on Sunday detained a third Kurdish mayor who had sought foreign support in a campaign for cultural rights, continuing a crack down on political leaders amid an easing of Kurdish rebels’ 15-year-old guerrilla war.

The arrests of Feyzullah Karaaslan of Bingol on Sunday and the two other mayors on Saturday signaled that the government, despite pressure from Europe, remains extremely wary of granting cultural rights to restive Kurds.

Turkey, vying for European Union membership, is likely to face increased European pressure to lift bans on education and broadcasting in Kurdish _ especially after Abdullah Ocalan’s rebels renounced violence in favor of political means in their struggle for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey’s southeast.

Authorities are uneasy with the fact that both the legal, pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party and Ocalan’s illegal Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, demand the same cultural rights for the country’s estimated 12 million Kurds.

Ocalan was captured a year ago and sentenced to death for leading the 15-year guerrilla battle for Kurdish rights.

``What does it matter if our demands overlap with those of the PKK’s, as long as they are justified?″ asked Ahmet Turan Demir, leader of the People’s Democracy Party.

The detentions came shortly after Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit warned the party against ties with the guerrillas. The party is already facing court-ordered closure on charges of being a front for the rebel group.

A government statement Saturday said the mayors have been accused of carrying out propaganda activities, extorting money from citizens, gathering conscripts in Europe for the mountain ranks of the group and establishing a network of communication between rebels and imprisoned comrades.

``Our mayors are being targeted with fictitious accusations in a plot,″ Demir said, denying allegations raised against them by recently captured suspected Kurdish rebels. He blamed Ecevit for the crackdown and demanded the mayors’ immediate release.

Police arrested Feridun Celik, the mayor of Diyarbakir, Saturday as he was returning from a meeting with Canadian diplomats there, reports said.

On Thursday, Celik met with Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, just days after issuing a statement on the problems of Kurdish communities in the battered southeast in a meeting in Germany.

The two other mayors, Selim Ozalp of Siirt and Karaaslan, had also attended the Germany meeting. Ozalp was also detained on Saturday, while authorities apprehended Karaaslan on Sunday.

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