Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Kurd's Arrest Rattles Europe Turkey's Capture of Kurdish Separatist Leader Touches off Protests Feb.16 by Kurds across Continent

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Kurd's Arrest Rattles Europe Turkey's Capture of Kurdish Separatist Leader Touches off Protests Feb.16 by Kurds across Continent

Article excerpt

Kurdish protesters stormed Greek embassies and consulates across Europe Feb. 16 in a dramatic and concerted display of anger by the most militant ethnic minority on the continent.

The demonstrators, who seized hostages in Greek diplomatic compounds from The Hague to Vienna, were protesting the capture of Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan by Turkish officials late Feb. 15 in Nairobi, Kenya. Mr. Ocalan had been given temporary asylum by the Greek ambassador in Nairobi two weeks ago.

Turkish premier Bulent Ecevit announced that Ocalan had been captured after a covert operation and that he would "pay his accounts to the independent Turkish courts." Ocalan, considered a terrorist by the Turkish government for his leadership of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrilla group, could face the death penalty if convicted. In the wake of military setbacks, the PKK has been waging a diplomatic campaign in Europe for some time, rallying international support behind its struggle for independence from Turkish rule. Drawing on a sizable Kurdish population on the continent, the movement has set up a satellite TV station and a Kurdish "Parliament in Exile" in Brussels, among other elements in a close-knit wide- ranging organization. Although the PKK is on the US State Department's list of terrorist organizations, its campaign has attracted a number of high-profile supporters in Europe, including Danielle Mitterrand, a human rights activist and widow of former French President Franois Mitterrand. Ocalan appeared eager to pursue a political and diplomatic path when he sought to visit Europe last November, but he was denied permission to stay. SOME 400,000 Kurds - out of a total of 3 million Turkish workers - are estimated to live in Europe. The bulk of them are in Germany, but they have spread to almost every country, as the embassy occupations showed. Greek and Kenyan diplomatic missions were attacked in London, Moscow, Brussels, Vienna, Paris, Bonn, Milan, Geneva, Copenhagen, and The Hague, among other locations. Most of the Kurds are immigrant workers, but several thousand have been offered political asylum by European governments, especially in Scandinavia. Analysts have noted a heightened degree of political activism recently, and the wave of embassy takeovers within hours of Ocalan's arrest illustrates a high level of international coordination. "Over the past few months, the Ocalan affair has led to a certain politicization of the Kurdish population," says Sami Vaner, an expert on Turkish affairs with the Center for International Studies and Research, a Paris-based think tank. "Now you have a Kurdish community politically favorable to the PKK." Ocalan's search for a haven over the past several months has also brought into focus the awkwardness of Europe's ambivalent relationship with Turkey - a NATO ally but not regarded as "one of us. …

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