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 Turkish Kurd activist Leyla Zana to form new political party

 Source : AFP
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Turkish Kurd activist Leyla Zana to form new political party  22.10.2004


ANKARA (AFP) - Kurdish activist Leyla Zana and three colleagues, released in June after a decade in a Turkish jail, announced plans for a political comeback in a new party as they went on trial for the third time for alleged ties with armed Kurdish rebels.

"We, former MPs once under a political ban and once seen as the boogeymen, sincerely want to serve democracy and peace. For this reason, we are launching the popular democratic movement," Zana told reporters Friday, shortly before she was due to appear in court.

Zana became the first Kurdish woman to be elected to Turkey's parliament in 1991, but her career came to an end in 1994 when she and three other Kurdish lawmakers -- Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak -- were sentenced to 15 years in jail for membership of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), engaged in a bloody campaign against the government.

Flanked by her three colleagues, Zana explained that the fundamental principles of the new party would be to "support Turkey's bid to join the European Union" and "achieve a peaceful and democratic solution" to Kurdish demands for more cultural and political rights within Turkey's territorial integrity.

The party would also work for a "new and democratic" constitution which would recognize the country's "ethnic diversities", including the Kurds, she added.

"An overwhelming majority of the Turkish society seems ready for rapid, meaningful and radical change. No political party, whether in power or in opposition, has been able to respond to the demands of the people," said the 43-year-old Zana.

"The world is changing and Turkey cannot be kept away from this change," she added.

Zana said that neither she nor her three colleagues would stand for the chairmanship of the new party, whose name was not yet determined.

Straight after the press conference, the four appeared before an Ankara court to answer charges of close links with the PKK, now known as KONGRA-GEL, which first picked up arms against Ankara in 1984 and renewed the fighting in June after a five-year unilateral truce.

Even if convicted, the four are not expected to go back to jail because of the time they had already served, their lawyer says.

In a legal saga closely watched by the European Union, the four were first convicted in 1994, but were allowed a retrial in March 2003 after the European Court of Human Rights in 2001 condemned their original trial as unfair.

The retrial upheld the original sentences, amid accusations by human rights activists and defence lawyers that the proceedings were once again flawed.

In July, the appeals court overturned the second verdict, paving the way for the third trial.

In Friday's hearing, monitored by a handful of foreign observers, the three-judge panel gave the defence team additional time to prepare their arguments and -- ironically -- set the second hearing for December 17.

On that date, EU leaders will gather to assess Turkey's progress at improving its cripped democracy and decide whether to set a date to begin membership talks with Ankara.

The new trial will be closely followed by the 25-nation bloc which sees it as a test of Turkey's resolve to haul itself up to European standards.

The four have been adopted by the pan-European bloc as prisoners of conscience and the European parliament awarded Zana its prestigious Sakharov human rights prize in 1995.

She was able to finally receive it in person last week after Turkish authorities gave her permission to travel abroad.

Since Zana's arrest, Turkey has enacted several EU-minded reforms to grant cultural rights to its sizeable Kurdish minority, including the right to broadcast and teach in their own language.

10/22/2004 - 11:24 GMT - AFP 




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