Turkey angered by Italian decision against extradition of Kurdish rebel Possibility of asylum for insurgent sparks protests in Ankara


ROME -- An Italian court of appeals rejected Turkey's request yesterday for the extradition of a Kurdish rebel leader, deepening tensions between Italy and Turkey.

Abdullah Ocalan, arrested last week while seeking to enter Italy, is to be released from detention in a military hospital and put under house arrest while Italy considers his request for political asylum.

Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema had said Italy would not hand Ocalan over to Turkey, citing an Italian law that prohibits extraditing prisoners to countries that have the death penalty.

But the court ruling -- and the easing of Ocalan's detention -- infuriated Turkish officials, who regard Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, as a terrorist and public enemy No. 1. The 14-year-old conflict between Kurdish separatists and Turkish troops in southeastern Turkey has claimed more than 35,000 lives.

"Italy is attempting to make peace with terrorism," Prime Minister Mesut A. Yilmaz of Turkey said after hearing the court's ruling. "It faces the danger of earning Turkey's eternal hostility." He added: "The Italian government is making mistake after mistake. Every mistake will certainly have a very heavy price."

Turkey has begun unofficial boycotts of Italian goods, and protesters demonstrating in Ankara and Istanbul have burned Italian-made silk ties to illustrate their point.

Until recently, Italy and Turkey maintained good relations. Italy was one of the few European nations strongly favoring Turkey's inclusion in the European Union.

Turkey is particularly upset because D'Alema has not ruled out granting Ocalan political asylum, which many leftists in his coalition favor. The United States, which requested that Italy extradite Ocalan to Turkey, has expressed its opposition to political asylum for Ocalan.

Diplomats in Rome suspect that Italy will postpone a decision for as long as possible.

Germany, which issued a warrant for Ocalan on homicide charges in 1990, said that it would not for the moment press Italy for his extradition. Germany is home to 2 million Turks, a quarter ++ of them ethnic Kurds, and seems reluctant to create new domestic tensions by bringing Ocalan to trial. Germany seems happy for now to let Italy take the heat.

Pub Date: 11/21/98

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