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Ocalan Pushes Plea for Turkey Peace

June 3, 1999

IMRALI ISLAND, Turkey (AP) _ Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan appealed to the Turkish government Thursday to accept his overtures for ending 15 years of fighting that has left 37,000 people dead.

``This is about Turkey’s future,″ Ocalan told the court on the prison island of Imrali, where he is being tried for treason. ``Whatever our mistakes and our sins, give us a chance. Let’s unite.″

The rebel chief, who could be sentenced to hang, has asked the court to spare his life so he could work to stop fighting between the Turkish military and his Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

``I am not saying this to save myself,″ Ocalan insisted. ``I want to prevent the death of a single soldier, a single PKK member.″

The court session was boycotted by Ocalan’s defense lawyers, who complained that Turkey was not doing enough to protect them from an angry public. Crowds surrounded Ocalan’s lawyers and relatives at a hotel Wednesday, pushing and jeering.

The lawyers agreed to attend Friday’s hearing after authorities promised to move them to other accommodations.

Prosecutors have yet to ask for a sentence against Ocalan, who is widely expected to be convicted and sentenced to death.

But lawyers for the families of more than 2,500 Turkish victims who have appealed to the court as plaintiffs asked the court Thursday to condemn Ocalan to death.

``He carried out a genocide. He caused hatred among the Turkish and Kurdish people. He made fear reign,″ said one of the lawyers, Cengiz Erkoyuncu. ``That’s why he should be sentenced to death.″

The families are represented by scores of lawyers, who rotate at each session.

As the lawyers accused him of inciting slaughter and ethnic hatred, Ocalan could be seen apparently falling asleep in his bulletproof, bombproof glass enclosure in the courtroom.

Ocalan also was questioned about his group’s financial ties. He said most of the rebels’ assets were deposited in several Swiss banks under the names of PKK sympathizers.

Ocalan said the PKK gave the equivalent of $100,000 from its coffers to the People’s Democracy Party (HADEP), which is already facing the possibility of being closed if found guilty of links to the rebels. HADEP is Turkey’s only legal pro-Kurdish party, and two of its predecessors have been shut down for links to the PKK.

During previous hearings, Ocalan urged his fighters to lay down their arms, but they responded by saying it was up to Turkey to bring peace.

Turkey has ruled out any concessions to its minority Kurds in their drive for autonomy in the southeast, seeing it as a threat that would split the nation. The government also has rejected talking to the rebels, who it considers terrorists.

Since the rebels began their fight for autonomy in 1984, the majority of those killed have been Kurds.

Prosecutors are expected to make their closing arguments Monday. Defense lawyers then could ask for a recess of up to 15 days to prepare their final arguments.

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