The sentencing to death for murder and treason of the Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan was the top story Wednesday across Europe, with practically all newspapers urging the Turkish government to call off his execution. An array of editorials in France, Germany, Britain, Italy, and Spain trotted out much the same arguments: Hanging Ocalan would ignite more Kurdish violence in Turkey and further strain Turkey’s relations with the countries of the European Union, which it wants to join. It was also widely claimed that the arrest and conviction of Ocalan offers a rare opportunity for Turkey to negotiate a peace settlement with its rebellious Kurdish minority.
In Britain, the Times proposed a do-nothing policy “until today’s passion and polemics fade away.” It said: “Formally commuting the death sentence might, for now, strike Turkish voters as weak. But if Ocalan was alive, in prison, with a death sentence over his head, the PKK [his Kurdish Workers’ Party] might exercise more restraint: meanwhile, the Turkish Government might win time for a broader approach to the Kurdish question.” The liberal Guardian said it would be “greatly in Turkey’s interest” to embark on a dialogue with the Kurds. It said: “The Kurdish question, the existence of which Ankara officially denies, continues in reality to disrupt its internal affairs. … It has hampered Turkey’s ambition to join the EU, and raised concerns about its NATO membership. The constant stream of condemnation of Turkey’s oppression of its Kurdish minority poisons daily its commerce with the world.” The Independent said that although Ocalan was no saint or democratic hero, hanging him would only make things worse by turning him into a martyr for the Kurdish cause.
In Germany, Die Welt led on European indignation at the death sentence and appeals for Turkey to commute it. In a front-page commentary, the paper said it was true that Ocalan has blood on his hands and that the Turkish people want revenge, but it also said that “a dead leader would be immortal as a martyr to the Kurdish cause.” In Paris, Le Figaro reported that Europe was “mobilizing” to save Ocalan and commented on its front page that Turkey has every reason to show generosity toward the Kurds: “It is in a position of strength on the ground, and it knows that a gesture of appeasement would convince the European Union to look more favorably on its application to join, which has been on the table since 1987.”
In Italy, the papers also led on European warnings to Turkey not to carry out the death sentence, and La Repubblica of Rome said that just as the price for Russia’s cooperation in Kosovo had been a huge loan, so perhaps the price of Ocalan’s life would be Turkey’s entry into Europe. In Spain, El País said that Ankara would be committing “a grave error” if it carries out the death penalty against Ocalan, since it has “an historic opportunity to exercise magnanimity and to lay the foundations of a reconciliation with the Kurds.”
The other main stories in the European press Wednesday were the first big demonstration in Yugoslavia against President Slobodan Milosevic, and the cliff-hanging negotiations in Belfast on the implementation of the Northern Ireland peace settlement, for which British Prime Minister Tony Blair has declared midnight Wednesday the “absolute” deadline. But British papers were dominated by the rain that wiped out all play Tuesday at the Wimbledon tennis championships and by an administrative fiasco at the government Passport Agency, which has left more than half a million people due to travel abroad within the next four weeks waiting for passports.
With the Princess Diana museum reopening Thursday, her birthday, for its second summer season at Althorp, her family home in England, the Daily Telegraph reported that some 25,000 tickets still remain unsold, whereas last year all 150,000 tickets were snatched up before opening day. This is one of a number of recent indications that Diana fever has declined substantially. The Times reported that her brother, Earl Spencer, is considering breaking his ties with the memorial fund through which the proceeds from the museum have until now been channeled for charitable purposes, while from New York, the Daily Express reported a plan to build the world’s first permanent monument to the late princess on a three-acre site in Central Park.