Turkey charges Kurdish politicians over Ocalan appeal

Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan on trial in 1999 Abdullah Ocalan was tried in 1999

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Turkey has charged more than one 100 Kurdish politicians for demanding better conditions for the imprisoned ex-rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

Prosecutors said the demand, which the 98 former mayors and eight other politicians signed two years ago, constituted terrorist propaganda.

They could face up to 20 years in jail.

Tension has grown since Kurdish politicians declared autonomy in the south-east last month and PKK rebels killed 13 Turkish soldiers in clashes.

Mr Ocalan has been serving a life sentence in a prison on an island near Istanbul.

He was originally sentenced to death in 1999, but that sentence was commuted to life imprisonment three years later.

A court in the capital, Ankara, announced on Wednesday that the Kurdish politicians would be tried in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir.

Another 152 Kurdish politicians are already on trial in the city for alleged ties to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party).

Any expression of support for the rebels, however mild, can be construed as a criminal offence in Turkey, the BBC's Jonathan Head reports from Istanbul.

Tone changes

Among the latest batch of Kurdish politicians being charged are some who have done no more than call for improved living conditions for Ocalan, he notes.

But the sheer number now on trial - including respected community leaders - is a source of anger in much of the Kurdish south-east, our correspondent says.

The announcement of more trials came just 24 hours after a popular Kurdish politician elected to parliament last month was given a two-year sentence on similar charges.

Another elected MP was barred from taking his seat because of an outstanding sentence.

Kurdish leaders say the mass trials make a mockery of the government's claim that it wants to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in the south-east, which has claimed more than 40,000 lives.

But the recent upsurge of PKK armed activity seems to have hardened the government's attitude, and there is no longer any talk of possible negotiations with Ocalan, our correspondent adds.

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