Thousands of Kurds demonstrate for freedom of leader
Strasbourg -- Thousands of Kurds from across northern Europe demonstrated Saturday for the release of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan on the 10th anniversary of his capture by Turkish special forces.
Organizers said 20,000 from Germany, Switzerland and Belgium as well as France marched in Strasbourg, headquarters of the Council of Europe, while police put the number at 10,000.
As every year on the anniversary, they paraded through the city holding portraits of Ocalan and banners demanding his release.
Ocalan, 59, founded the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which listed as a terrorist organization by Ankara and much of the international community. He led its bloody campaign for self-rule in the Kurdish-majority southeast of Turkey from 1984 until his arrest on February 15, 1999.
He was captured in Nairobi, Kenya after he was forced to leave the Greek embassy, where he had taken refuge while on the run after leaving his long-time safe haven in Syria the previous year.
A Turkish court condemned him to death for treason several months later, but the sentence was commuted to life in 2002 after Ankara abolished capital punishment as part of reforms to align with European Union norms.
He is the sole inmate of an island prison in the Sea of Marmara. Last year, the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee (CPT) urged Turkey to end his solitary confinement, stressing the threat to his mental health.
The Turkish government said in December it will decide this year whether to transfer more prisoners to the island of Imrali.