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Russia: Kurds Set Themselves Ablaze Over Ocalan Protests

Moscow, 17 November 1998 (RFE/RL) - Two Kurdish men today doused themselves with gasoline and set themselves ablaze near the State Duma to protest the detention of Turkish Kurd separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan. It was one of the most dramatic protests in a series of demonstrations by Kurds across Europe. Ocalan is wanted in Turkey on terrorism charges and has applied for political asylum in Italy. He is the founder of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has been fighting in southeast Turkey for an independent Kurdish state since 1984.

The two men who attempted self-immolation were identified by Interfax as members of the PKK and are recovering in the hospital.

Other protests by Kurds in Turkey against Ocalan's detention continued as the Turkish government continued efforts to seek his extradition. At least two people -- including a 12-year-old child -- were injured in the southeastern Turkish town of Yuksekova when a suicide bomber exploded a bomb strapped to her body. She died in the attack. Her target was reported to be an approaching military convoy.

In Istanbul, prison inmates released an Italian prisoner they had been holding hostage since Sunday in a bid to press Italy to extradite Ocalan to Turkey.

Police today also detained 15 Kurdish demonstrators who had taken refuge in an Italian church in Istanbul as they ran away from an angry crowd. Reports say police also arrested 100 people demonstrating in southern Turkey. Thousands of inmates in nine Turkish prisons are also continuing a protest fast.

Reports from Romania say thousands of Kurds closed down shops and businesses in protest. Business leaders say the one-day shutdown yesterday cost $700,000.

Some 4,000 of Ocalan's Kurdish supporters have gathered in Rome to hold what is described as a largely peaceful vigil to press for his release.

Meanwhile Italy has said it will not grant political asylum to Ocalan unless it is convinced he has renounced terrorism. Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema told parliament today that Ocalan's renunciation of terrorism is a "minimum" to process his asylum request. He said Italy does not intend to be a host for terrorism.

In a statement yesterday, Ocalan rejected all terrorist actions and said he wants to work for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish conflict. D'Alema said Italy must now wait to see if Ocalan sticks to his pledge.

Turkish President Suleyman Demirel -- in Austria for talks with President Thomas Klestil -- today pledged a "free trial" for Ocalan if he is extradited to Turkey. Demirel also said Turkish Kurds have no reason to protest their treatment under his government. He said Turkey has a terrorism problem, not a Kurdish problem.

Belgium and Germany say they do not want Italy to send them Ocalan as an alternative to extraditing him to Turkey. The PKK maintains a parliament in exile in Belgium. Germany issued an arrest warrant for Ocalan in 1990.

Greece, meanwhile, is urging members of the European Union to acknowledge the Ocalan crisis as a "European problem." Greece's Deputy Foreign Minister George Papandreou said today Ocalan could have turned up in any of the 15 EU states. He said Europe should not turn its back and let Italy go it alone.