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Kurdistan

Kurds march in Strasbourg for release of former PKK leader Öcalan

Pro-Kurd protesters take part in a demonstration in support of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan in Strasbourg, France, February 16, 2019.
Pro-Kurd protesters take part in a demonstration in support of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan in Strasbourg, France, February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Several thousand Kurds took to the streets of Strasbourg on Saturday to demand the release of one of the founders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, imprisoned in Turkey for the last 20 years.

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Some 7,000 Kurds (17,000 according to organisers) travelled to Strasbourg from all over Europe, marching with Kurdish flags and banners portraying their leader Öcalan.

"We demand Öcalan’s release, but today the most important thing is that his conditions in prison are improved. Western powers must shift their position", 27-year old Acelya Degirmenci told AFP in reference to the fact the PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Anakara and its Western allies.

Kurds have been gathering in Strasbourg, home to the Council of Europe and the European court of human rights, every year since Öcalan was arrested in Kenya on 15 February 1999 and taken back to Turkey where he was tried and sentenced to death for treason and sedition.

The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2004 when Turkey abolished the death penalty.

Öcalan is being held on the prison island of Imrali near Istanbul in virtual solitary confinement. His supporters say he has not been allowed to see his lawyers since 2011.

They're calling on the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) - a body responsible for investigating torture and human rights abuses in prisons - and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to investigate alleged human rights abuses against a Kurdish leader.

"Twenty years is very symbolic, we will remain mobilised so long as the international community continues to look the other way", said Hélène Erin, spokesperson for the organisers of today's demonstration.

Kurdish MP on hunger strike

Demonstrators also showed support for Leyla Güven, an MP with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP) who’s now been on hunger strike for 101 days.

She launched her action while in jail for criticising Turkey's invasion of Afrin in Syria, to protest against Öcalan’s prison conditions.

She was freed last month under judicial supervision but has continued her protest, refusing any treatment and taking only sugared or salty water.

"We want to give this great lady strength and pay hommage to her. Her action has been well relayed among the public and thanks to her pressure is mounting on [president] Erdogan”, said Agit Polat, a representative of the Conseil Democratique Kurde (Kurdish Democratic Council) in France.

On Friday, Turkish police prevented Güyen's supporters from rallying outside her home in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir.

Öcalanwas caught in Kenya outside the Greek Embassy in Nairobi on Feb. 15, 1999 by Turkish secret service agents after attempting to seek asylum in Europe.

Turkish authorities last month allowed Öcalan’s brother Mehmet to see him, the first visit in over two years.

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