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Turkey: Ocalan's Trial Resumes With Defense Statement

By Gokalp Bayramli

Istanbul, 23 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The high-profile trial in Turkey of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan resumed today on the prison island of Imrali, with Ocalan reading from a prepared defense statement.

In the statement, Ocalan said he's given up the concept of armed struggle on behalf of the Kurds and is willing to cooperate with Turkish authorities. Summarizing a 40-page written defense statement, Ocalan called for an immediate end to fighting between his Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Turkish government.

He said the 15-year armed conflict must end and become the last Kurdish uprising against the Turks. Ocalan said he was not seeking an independent Kurdistan but merely more rights for his people. Ocalan blamed the Turkish government's ban against the Kurdish language and other restrictions for spawning the PKK's fight.

Ocalan also said he accepts responsibility for the thousands of victims of clashes between Turkish security forces and the PKK during the latter's 14-year-long struggle for independence in Kurdish-populated areas of Turkey. But, he emphasizes, he's not the only one who should be held accountable for the deaths.

Ocalan is charged with treason and murder. He faces the death sentence if convicted. The Turkish Security Court hearing the trial is expected to announce a verdict next week.

Our correspondent reports that, as of today, all three Security Court judges presiding over the trial are civilians. In accordance with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, a military judge who participated in earlier hearings has been replaced by a civilian.

Observers say the change is not likely to aid Ocalan's defense. Ocalan was for years Turkey's most-wanted man, and the death penalty is regarded as an almost certainty.

In an interview published today in the Italian newspaper "La Repubblica," Ocalan says through his lawyers that his survival is important to maintain Turkey's social harmony. He told the paper that "a lot of blood will flow" if he is put to death.

Turkish media have tended to dismiss Ocalan's threats and appeals for national harmony as a cowardly attempt to save his own life. The press has focused its coverage on Ocalan's crimes and has paid scant attention to the problems of the country's Kurdish minority, many of whom are demanding cultural autonomy.

It's also unlikely that there will be any video coverage of this week's proceedings. Turkish national television (TRT) is leaning against broadcasting the defense so as not to provide the PKK with a propaganda platform.

Our correspondent says a death sentence for Ocalan does not necessarily mean the Kurdish leader will be executed. The last execution in Turkey took place 15 years ago, and there are several legal steps to be taken after a court verdict before any execution can take place.

In the case of a death sentence, Ocalan's file would be sent to a Court of Appeals. If the sentence is upheld, the file would then be handed over to the Turkish parliament for approval and then to the Turkish president.

There are currently 68 people on death row in Turkey, mostly in connection with the PKK. More than 40 of these are waiting on parliament to consider the sentence.