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Turkey Expands Kurd Party Crackdown

February 24, 2000

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ Turkish courts cracked down against the only legal pro-Kurdish party Thursday, sentencing the party’s leader to prison and bringing charges against three mayors _ moves likely to alienate Kurds and harm relations with Europe.

Prosecutors said top members of the People’s Democracy Party had acted in support of the Kurdish rebels led by Abdullah Ocalan.

An Ankara security court sentenced 18 members of the party, including its leader, Ahmet Turan Demir, and his predecessor, Murat Bozlak, to three years and nine months in prison on charges of aiding Kurdish rebels, the Anatolia news agency reported.

The court said the party members helped the rebels by staging hunger strikes in 1998 to oppose Turkish attempts to pressure Italy to extradite Ocalan.

Ocalan was later captured by Turkish commandos in Kenya, brought to Turkey and sentenced to death for treason and separatism. A second separatism trial against Ocalan and other members of his organization was adjourned Wednesday until April 24.

In Diyarbakir, a court on Thursday arraigned three of the party’s leading mayors on charges of aiding Ocalan’s rebels.

Those arrested included Feridun Celik, the mayor of Diyarbakir, the largest city in the overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast. Each mayor faces up to 7 1/2 years in prison if convicted. No trial date has been set.

The crackdown has led to protests from European Union countries _ criticism which angered many Turks.

``What has it got to do with the EU?″ Yeni Safak newspaper quoted President Suleyman Demirel as saying. ``There is no privilege in Turkey to commit crimes.″

Kurds reacted with outrage.

``According to the official mentality, Kurd equals criminal,″ Ali Sapan wrote in the pro-Kurdish newspaper, Ozgur Bakis.

In April, the People’s Democracy Party won the mayorships of 37 cities and towns in the southeast. The party says it has been trying to act as a bridge between Kurds demanding cultural rights and the government.

But many Turks fear the party is simply a front for rebels. Both the party and Ocalan’s Kurdistan Workers Party demand cultural rights for Kurds, such as the right to teach or broadcast in Kurdish.

Prosecutor Sami Gungor showed the court pictures of the mayors with Murat Karayilan, a senior Kurdistan Workers Party commander who is seeking asylum in the Netherlands, Hurriyet newspaper reported.

The mayors’ lawyer, Sinan Tanrikulu, dismissed the charges and said authorities were not able to present any ``serious or solid″ evidence against his clients, private NTV television reported.

EU Parliament President Nicole Fontaine had urged Turkey to release the mayors, who were detained this weekend.

Turkey was named a candidate to join the European Union in December. But members stressed that it must first improve its human rights record and enact more democratic laws.

Update hourly