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Turkey: Kurds, Russians Stage Pro-Ocalan Protest In Moscow

Since a Turkish court yesterday sentenced Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan to death, Kurds have demonstrated -- so far peacefully -- in several cities across Europe. The largest demonstration was held in Moscow, from where RFE/RL correspondent Floriana Fossato filed this report.

Moscow, 30 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Several hundred Kurds gathered in central Moscow yesterday after a Turkish court condemned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan to death by hanging on charges of treason, separatism, and murder. Representatives of Russian communist and nationalist organizations also joined the rally.

The protesters chanted "Turkey -- terrorist" and set fire to Turkish flags. But overall the demonstration took place peacefully.

Local Kurdish leader Rostam Broi told the crowd that Kurds would "continue their struggle." The head of the Union of Kurds in member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Merobi Shamayev, said further protests in Russia will take place peacefully. But he added that it is impossible to foresee developments in Turkey in the event Ocalan is actually put to death.

"The actions of the Turkish community in Russia will stick to the civilized and democratic frame of law of the Russian Federation. This means everything will take place in a civilized and democratic way, as in any other country. [Protest] rallies will occur only when authorized. Everything will be within the law.... But is impossible to say what will happen in the territory of Turkey and in the main cities there. Bloodshed could increase."

An RFE/RL Russian service correspondent on the scene said that Russian politicians joining the demonstrations were much more radical in their calls than Kurdish leaders. Nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky called on Kurds to set fire to Turkish embassies around the world if the death sentence is carried out.

Russia has frequently accused the West of a double standard in its approach to Turkey's Kurdish problem. Russian politicians protesting NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia in recent months said NATO subjected Yugoslavia to heavy bombing over Kosovo but failed to criticize alliance-member Turkey over the treatment of its Kurdish minority.

However, in an interview published on Monday by the Italian daily "La Repubblica," Ocalan accused Russia, along with Italy, Greece, the United States, and Britain, of having played a part in what he called the "plot" leading to his capture.

Russia, as well as Italy, was one of the countries where Ocalan tried unsuccessfully to find refuge before Turkish security forces arrested him in Kenya in February.

Ocalan is the leader of the Marxist-leaning Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK.) In Soviet times, the PKK had close ties with Soviet communist authorities.

Following today's verdict, the Russian government as well as the governments of Germany, Switzerland, France, the Czech Republic, and Norway all expressed regret at the death sentence. So, too, did the Council of Europe.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said that the "highest principles of humanity should be considered in the appeal of the death sentence." Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told a news briefing that Russia would like to see a resolution of the Kurdish problem "based on international law" with due regard for human rights and the rights of national minorities.