Saturday, June 24, 2006

Turk Court to Try 56 Mayors Over Letter to Danish PM

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, 20 June 2006 — A court agreed yesterday to try dozens of mayors in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast over a letter they sent to Denmark's prime minister, in a case that could harm Ankara's ties with the European Union. The court accepted a state prosecutor's charge that the 56 mayors had "knowingly and willingly" helped Kurdish rebels when they urged Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen not to close the Danish-based Kurdish broadcaster Roj TV.
If convicted, the mayors face up to 10 years in jail. They include Osman Baydemir, mayor of Diyarbakir, the largest city of the impoverished region, and a senior official in the Democratic Society Party which champions Kurdish rights. The trial will begin after all the defendants have been notified of the charges, officials said.
Turkey accuses Roj of being a mouthpiece of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 with the aim of carving out an ethnic homeland in the southeast. More than 30,000 people have been killed in that conflict.
But, speaking during an EU summit in Brussels last week, Rasmussen said putting the mayors on trial over the letter would contravene the values of the EU, which Turkey hopes to join. Ankara began EU membership talks last October.
"(Such a trial) is not something we (the EU) will quietly accept because it would be completely contradictory to the principle that has to be met for countries wishing to join the EU," Rasmussen said.
Turkey has eased tough restrictions on the Kurdish language and culture in recent years as part of its drive to join the EU, though the European Commission says it must do more. Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan boycotted a news conference last November in Denmark with Rasmussen to protest against the presence of a journalist from Roj TV.

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